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ABQ auto thefts drop, but rate is still worst in the nation

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A New Mexico State Police officer with the auto theft unit pulls over a man in a suspected stolen vehicle earlier this year. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The good news: Almost 2,700 fewer cars – a 27% decrease – were stolen in 2018 in the Albuquerque area than the year before.

Instead of the 1,096 cars stolen per 100,000 residents in 2017, that figure was 780 cars in 2018.

The bad news: These gains weren’t enough to dislodge the city from the number one hot spot for stolen vehicles per capita in the country.

It’s a standing that the Albuquerque metropolitan statistical area – including Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties – has held for the past three years, according to an annual report compiled by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

In a news conference at the Albuquerque Police Department headquarters Tuesday afternoon, officials stressed that local and statewide agencies have made huge gains in tackling the auto theft problem.

“We haven’t been emphatic enough about the hole we were in when this thing started a couple of years ago,” said Devin Chapman, executive director of the Office of Superintendent of Insurance’s NM Auto Theft Prevention Authority. “Our numbers in Albuquerque were so far beyond anybody else’s in the country. It’s something we’ve been digging out of ever since.”

Chapman pointed out that in 2017, in the Albuquerque area, almost 300 more vehicles were stolen per 100,000 residents than in the number two spot of Anchorage, Alaska. In 2018, there were only seven more vehicles stolen per 100,000 residents.

And while the country as a whole saw a decrease in auto theft overall, the Albuquerque area has made much more significant gains.

“I would be concerned if Albuquerque had a 3% decrease, which was the national decrease last year, but in reality APD had a decrease of 27% between 2017 and 2018,” said APD deputy chief Harold Medina. “Nobody had a larger decrease in the top five and, in the top 10, only one other agency had a larger decrease.”

Chapman said that while the biggest drop has been seen in the city of Albuquerque, auto theft numbers also declined in the surrounding counties.

He said from 2015 to 2017, all but five counties across the state saw an increase in auto theft, but now are all beginning to experience a decrease.

“This is an issue we have had some difficulty getting traction on, pointing out the auto theft problem in New Mexico is a New Mexico problem; this is not an Albuquerque problem,” Chapman said.

During the 2018 legislative session, a bill was passed to create the New Mexico Auto Theft Prevention Authority under the Office of Superintendent of Insurance. The authority works with local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies to tackle the problem.

Chapman said that the authority asked for more funding during the 2019 legislative session, but the bill died in a senate committee.

“We’ve asked for help and are going to ask again for help from the legislative session this coming January,” he said. “We’ve received wonderful support from a number of folks up there, we just need some more people to … help us get over the hump so we can get the resources we need to put the kind of effort we need into knocking this down.”

While the Albuquerque area had 27% fewer stolen vehicles in 2018 than in 2017, the city of Albuquerque saw a slightly higher decrease of 29%.

So far this year, there have already been 1,135 fewer stolen vehicles – 1,718 compared to 2,853 – than over the same time period last year, according to APD data. The department expects to close out the year with fewer than 4,000 total stolen cars, or a 30% decrease over the previous year.

An APD spokesman said he did not have numbers on the cases cleared by an arrest each year.

While both Chapman and Medina were hesitant to ascribe a reason for the dramatic increase, and decrease, in auto theft, both mentioned that multi-prong approaches to stemming the crime have been beneficial.

“We have to look at the system across the board,” Medina said. “How do we get stronger cases to the District Attorney’s Office, how do we ensure these stronger cases result in prosecution, how do we deal with individuals at the front end, and try to … get them the resources before they become a bigger problem? These are all things that we’re working on and … are all adding up to the reductions that we’re seeing.”

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