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DA says there has been a drop in auto thefts

Auto theft chartALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — District Attorney Raúl Torrez says a unit of 10 prosecutors dedicated to stolen car cases has begun taking on investigations of other crimes thanks to a decrease in motor vehicle thefts.

 DA Raúl Torrez

DA Raúl Torrez

For two years in a row, the Albuquerque area led the country in per-capita car thefts, logging nearly 10,000 in 2017. Albuquerque had three times as many per capita car thefts that year than second-place Anchorage, Alaska,, and 10 times more than fifth place St. Joseph, Missouri, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

But Torrez said Wednesday that the city could see its ranking drop dramatically by the end of the year.

“It’s a signal to the community that while we’re not out of the woods yet and we have a long way to go, we’re making substantial progress,” Torrez told local business and community leaders at an Economic Forum of Albuquerque breakfast meeting.

The drop comes as Albuquerque is in the midst of the longest sustained drop in crime in over a decade, Torrez said. The welcomed decline followed a crime rise that started in 2010 and spiked between 2013 and 2016, according to the DA’s Office.

While most prosecutors handle a range of crimes, the group of 10 was assembled just more than a year ago because, Torrez said, he felt car thefts were having a broad impact on the metro area.

“It had become a dominant narrative about our community, and it was just something that I thought we could solve if we surged those resources to it and we had some specialists,” he said in an interview.

When the unit started securing high-profile auto theft convictions, Torrez said, the defense lawyers became more willing to resolve cases earlier, which helped increase the flow of cases through the system.

Numbers are now dropping so rapidly that those prosecutors are “filling their plates with other things,” Torrez said, though stolen vehicle cases are still their top priority.

“We’re not nearly where we need to be, we have a long way to go, but it’s encouraging,” Torrez told the Journal in an interview. “The question now is, can we sustain the progress?”