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Police say Albuquerque had its first decrease in overall crime in eight years, but city officials acknowledge that crime in the city remains unacceptably high.
“This is the first time, at least, we’re going in the right direction,” Mayor Tim Keller said during a news conference Thursday afternoon. “It is with sober optimism that we share these statistics because we know that, overall, the rates are still too high.”
The statistics run through Dec. 21 and show the largest decreases in property crime across the board: auto burglary dropped 29 percent, auto theft dropped 31 percent, commercial burglary dropped 17 percent and residential burglary dropped 18 percent.
Aside from robbery, which fell 36 percent, violent crime didn’t fall so drastically: Homicide decreased 10 percent, rape dropped 3 percent, aggravated assault went down 8 percent.
Paul Guerin, director of UNM’s Center for Applied Research and Analysis, called the statistics “good and welcome news” but said they mirror a national trend.
“We need longer-term and more in-depth reviews of crime to understand crime in Albuquerque,” he said. “A focus on a one-year comparison is an initial broad look at crime – a lot more could be done.”
Even the picture painted by Albuquerque police is not all roses.
As Keller and APD’s top brass touted the effectiveness of traffic stops – which had a 31 percent increase – they also emphasized that more effort is needed to combat a troubling increase in gun violence.
Nonfatal shootings, including ones this fall that left one teenager blind and another paralyzed, went up 4 percent this year, from 470 to 491.
There was also a flood of guns hitting the street as nearly 1,000 firearms were stolen from homes and vehicles from January to November.
Keller said the city and Police Department are working on a “comprehensive plan” to treat gun violence as a “public health crisis.”
“We have failed as a society, frankly, to do this in the first place,” he said. “It’s something that continues to plague us each and every day when we read the front page of the newspaper or watch our television set.”
Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier said the department plans to target gun violence by adding resources, investing in new technology and working with communities to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
“We’re going to be relentless,” he said. “In general, I think I’ve seen less of a respect for human life – to shoot people indiscriminately, drive-bys where houses are hit with 15, 20 rounds shot at the house.”
Without going into more detail, Geier said the department will announce new initiatives to fight gun violence in the coming weeks and work with legislators and city councilors to make it a priority for Albuquerque.
With at least 2,000 guns stolen out of homes and vehicles since 2016, Geier said, public outreach also needs to be done so the public doesn’t leave guns where they can be stolen.
“Sometimes people are just careless; they’ll leave a loaded firearm in the car underneath the seat or in the glove box,” he said. “Trust me; they find it and then it gets in the wrong hands.”
Although the decrease in property crimes is significant for a city that has ranked worst in the nation for two years, Guerin said the numbers are not an indicator of public safety by themselves.
“Citizen satisfaction and police proactivity are also indicators,” he said. “While APD uses traffic stops as a measure of proactivity, and it is widely used, it is not that great of a measure.”
Guerin said place-based policing, targeting repeat offenders, tailoring actions and community input and support are important.
He said it would be helpful to know what APD and the city are doing to lower crime rates aside from recruiting more officers and conducting more traffic stops.
“There are similar-sized jurisdictions with fewer officers per population that have lower crime rates,” he said.
Guerin said that although hiring more officers can result in less crime, it typically has a limited impact.
“Proactive policing is central to crime reduction efforts, and not all efforts are equal,” he said.