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ABQ mayor: Crime stats show need for state help

New Mexico had the nation’s second-highest violent crime rate and its highest property crime rate in 2018, despite the state’s largest city reporting slight decreases in both categories for the first time in years, according to recent federal data.

The shift for Albuquerque came as both violent and property crime declined nationwide for a second consecutive year.

For New Mexico, Albuquerque’s offenses accounted for more than half of the state’s crime overall. The city of about 560,000 people is home to just more than a quarter of the state’s population.

Mayor Tim Keller said curbing crime remains his administration’s top priority, and that the figures show it’s important for state officials to prioritize crime fighting in Albuquerque too.

“This is another reason why we continue to ask the state to help Albuquerque out,” he said. “We know, unfortunately, where Albuquerque goes, the rest of the state goes – especially with crime.”

Crime statistics and rankings have remained a political flash point in New Mexico for years as officials and lawmakers debate how to boost public safety while attempting to attract more tourism and jobs.

The city had rates of 1,365 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, and 6,179 property crimes per 100,000 residents.

By comparison, New Mexico had a rate of 857 violent crimes and 3,420 property crimes per 100,000 residents in 2018. The national rate was about 369 violent crimes and 2,200 property crimes.

Reporting by law enforcement agencies for the annual report, which was released Monday, is voluntary. As a result, the data offers a broad look at crime in thousands of U.S. cities, but can be inconsistent and incomplete.

The data also does not take into account factors that analysts say have been known to affect crime, such as economic conditions or population density, according to the FBI.

The agency noted that Albuquerque and Las Cruces are among a handful of U.S. cities that changed their crime reporting practices from 2017 to 2018 as the federal agency pushes local officials to adopt a new standard for crime reporting.

Keller said the city’s decision to follow standards of the National Incident-Based Reporting System, versus the decades-old Unified Crime Reporting Statistics system, has resulted in the city accounting for more crimes in its overall data collection, not fewer.

“We didn’t change it in our favor,” he said. “Our administration has been very clear that we have major challenges and that we own those challenges.”

Since taking office in late 2017, Keller has held press conferences touting the city’s progress toward lowering statistics, while still acknowledging that crime, and perhaps especially the number of homicides, remains far too high.

In July, the city held a news conference announcing a significant drop in crime across the board when comparing the first six months of 2019 with the first six months of the two previous years. Albuquerque police at the time announced, for example, that aggravated assaults from January through June had declined 33% in comparison with the same period during the previous year.

The city late Wednesday amended many of its July figures in a news release to say that while there had still been a decrease in crime, aggravated assaults had declined just 10% and auto theft had declined 22%.

Separately, Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said that preliminary 2019 figures showed there had been 63 homicides in Albuquerque from January through the end of September.

In total, Albuquerque had 69 murder or non-negligent manslaughter cases in 2018, while all other New Mexico cities included in the FBI’s 2018 data set had 49 such cases combined.

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