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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
On July 1 – the day after the second quarter of 2019 ended – Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier held a news conference to tout mid-year crime statistics.
The presentation showed crime was down substantially, with double-digit drops in nearly every category, between the first six months of 2018 and the first six months of 2019.
But the picture wasn’t nearly so rosy.
The Journal has learned that both the 2019 mid-year statistics and the statistics released at the end of 2018 have since been revised dramatically – to include hundreds, and in some cases thousands, more incidents than were reported initially.
For the most part, the new 2019 numbers still showed a drop in crime, but not to the extent earlier reported by the Keller administration. But the final numbers for all of 2018 showed some violent crime actually increased.
In response to questions from the Journal, the Albuquerque Police Department provided the new set of mid-year statistics last week, saying it had found inaccuracies in what had previously been presented. A spokesman said the records unit that compiled the numbers for the presentation had been short staffed and there was a software glitch that had resulted in chunks of data missing.
The new statistics between the first half of 2018 and the first half of 2019 show:
• Auto burglaries decreased 16%, not 38% as previously announced
• Auto theft decreased 22%, not 39%
• Commercial burglary decreased 3%, not 27%
• Residential burglary decreased 16%, not 39%
• Homicide decreased 2.5%, not 18% (homicides have since increased substantially in the second half of the year)
• Rape decreased 3%, not 29%
• Robbery decreased 30%, not 47%
• Aggravated assault decreased 7.5%, not 33%
Last week, Keller acknowledged the discrepancies but he said the trends the city had highlighted remain the same.
“I think we can find some truth in the trends,” he said. “Clearly this specific data, it always changes. This is probably why in the past they didn’t release this information that much.”
APD provided the revised statistics to the City Council at an October meeting, but did not signal that the numbers had changed drastically.
The city has not held a news conference on crime statistics for the third quarter of 2019, which came to a close at the end of September, but an APD spokesman did share the preliminary data with the Journal. According to what was provided, most crime is still trending downward, with the biggest gains in auto theft and robbery. Aggravated assault and commercial burglary remained relatively constant and homicide saw a 25% increase.
City officials say they plan to officially release those numbers at a press conference in the next couple of weeks.
Discrepancy in the numbers
The delay in releasing the most recent crime stats is unusual for the Keller administration, which up until last quarter had been releasing the data within a few weeks of the quarter ending.
In fact, before 2018 even ended – on Dec. 27 – the city released crime statistics that officials said showed “the first decrease in overall crime in nearly a decade, as property and violent crime continue to trend downward.”
But in February APD reported very different numbers to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, which collects and publishes data from law enforcement agencies around the country.
That data shows violent crime had actually increased 3.7% between 2017 and 2018 – driven by aggravated assaults.
According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer in its annual report:
• Aggravated assault increased 21%, rather than decreasing 8% as announced during the news conference
• Rape also increased by 3%, rather than decreasing 3%
• Auto theft decreased 14%, not 31%
• Homicides remained basically the same, decreasing by a single incident – or 1.4%
• Robbery decreased 32%, which is not far off from the originally reported 36%
Burglaries could not be easily compared, as the city had split up the category by type – auto, commercial and residential – in its initial briefing but not for the FBI report.
Higher than national average
Despite downward trends in many categories – particularly property crimes – crime rates remain higher in the city than the national average.
Auto theft, for example, decreased quite a bit in 2018, but the greater Albuquerque area remained No. 1 in the nation for rates of stolen cars.
And while there have been slight dips in some violent crime categories – the biggest improvements seen in robbery – others have increased. Homicide remains a problem and, with a month left in the year, the city appears to have recently surpassed the highest number in recent history.
Keller’s administration has rolled out numerous programs and initiatives to address violent crime, particularly those involving firearms.
Keller said his administration had tried to be upfront about the problems the city faces.
“When I came in, I wanted to be as transparent as possible with where we’re at on crime and I think that intent is still the right thing to do,” he said. “But it is much more complicated because of all these different databases and these classifications and all that stuff.”
Keller said regardless of the specifics in the data, his administration has made some big gains, especially in property crime.
“The mirror doesn’t lie and the mirror says violent crime is up, and that’s a huge problem, but it also says that property crime and auto theft are down,” he said. “I don’t think it’s about people believing one thing or another, I think it’s just what your definition of crime is. And we have always said that crime is the biggest problem in our community and that continues to be the case.”
Officers need data quickly
At least one researcher questions the practice of releasing crime statistics every three months.
Paul Guerin, the director of the University of New Mexico’s Center for Applied Research and Analysis, said comparing year-to-year data the way the city has been in its quarterly briefings isn’t particularly helpful.
“To see crime go up or go down in these short periods of time would not be a good reflection of what’s occurring,” Guerin said “It just gives you this brief little period to look at.”
He said it would be more helpful to see trends over the past several years.
Guerin said what concerns him most about the discovery of substantial differences in initial and revised numbers is that it suggests the police department doesn’t have a good way of keeping officers up to date on crimes as they occur.
“Operationally they need this data quickly day to day so if they don’t know they’re this far off then how can they use this data operationally?” Guerin said.
Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, said he had realized something was amiss with the mid-year data and started asking questions to figure it out. He said both the records department and the Real Time Crime Center have a hand in compiling the statistics.
“We have different software programs that are antiquated and are not very conducive to pull crime stats on a real time basis,” Gallegos said. “There are also issues with how officers input information. As a result, the records unit has to go through reports to ensure they are accurately categorized, etc. The RTCC created a system to make it easier to pull stats under the categories we have been using for quarterly briefings.”
Gallegos said that when he looked into the mid-year statistics, he found the records department employees had not sifted through six weeks’ worth of reports to determine if they needed to be revised to fit into the right categories. He said there was also a software problem that resulted in a large number of incidents not getting counted at all.
“I believe there were problems with the software that were later discovered in which large data categories were not reflected in real time when we pulled those stats,” he wrote in an email.
The city recently announced it plans to ask the Legislature for $20 million to modernize the police department, including a new records system.
“That data and technology are important to support those officers and help target crime,” Gallegos wrote in an email. “We also want to effectively track success and identify trends and areas of improvement. We also want to be transparent with the public and accurate with our crime stats.”