Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The highest-ranking official in Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s administration told the City Council on Monday that staff would review the past two years of crime data after revelations that the city has released numbers that dramatically overstated improvement.
Pressed by councilors after a recent Journal report on the inaccurate statistics announced this summer, Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said the city would reevaluate the numbers for Keller’s first two years in office, 2018 and 2019.
“We don’t know that there’s a problem, but I don’t think we can confidently say there’s not a problem, so we have to go back,” Nair told the council.
Councilor Pat Davis initiated the discussion at Monday’s meeting, after the city’s acknowledgment to the Journal that the midyear 2019 statistics Keller and Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier announced in July failed to include thousands of incidents.
Some councilors questioned whether previously released data might be similarly flawed.
Davis, a Keller supporter, said in an interview he is “embarrassed” having just campaigned for reelection while telling constituents who complained to him about crime that the data showed the city was making significant strides.
He is proposing that the City Council form its own public safety committee to better monitor the situation.
Davis said the council needs the right data as it sets the budget, noting that last year it approved a tax increase to better fund public safety and deserves to know how effective the spending has been.
“We’ve seen the number of strategies from the administration about how to deal with crime – all based on the premise that what we’ve done so far is working. And, in some cases, it appears our changes in crime stats in particular areas are no better than the majority of cities the same size as us around the country,” he said. “You wonder how effective some of the special initiatives have been.
“We put extra money into APD for special initiatives to solve specific problems, and maybe they haven’t been as successful as we thought they were, and maybe that money could’ve gone somewhere else that could’ve been.”
Nair and APD Deputy Chief of Staff Elizabeth Armijo cited several reasons for the bad numbers, blaming old and inefficient technology, delayed reporting by victims, a shift in how APD categorizes certain crimes and human error in the record-making process. The issues are complicated by the administration’s desire to provide quarterly updates instead of releasing only annual data, increasing the likelihood of errors, Nair said.
“This has been a problem for a long time, but when you give stats on an annual basis you give yourself all that time to clean up and patch up and get to the right numbers,” she said. “By moving to quarterly, we exposed all the flaws in the system.”
The city has worked to fill vacancies on the records staff, Nair said, and will be asking the Legislature for $20 million to modernize “crime fighting” technology, including an updated record management system.
Councilor Trudy Jones told the Journal that it’s hard to know how far back the problems go and that she wants the data audited.
“This is just wrong,” she said. “You’re not supposed to feed the public misinformation.”
In a brief interview Tuesday, Keller said it has taken time some time to sort through the data and get the right figures.
“I believe we’re doing the best job we can under the circumstances (to be transparent),” he said.
Updated midyear numbers comparing the first half of 2018 with the first half of 2019 that were provided to the Journal still show that crime fell in all categories, but the improvements were far more limited than originally stated.
Although officials said in the summer that aggravated assault had fallen by 33%, the new data reflects a 7% drop. Auto burglary did not plummet by 38%, but fell by 16%.
Asked how the administration intended to publicly disseminate the right numbers, Keller said the plan was to start with the City Council and eventually hold another news conference acknowledging the discrepancies and providing new data.
“As soon as we found out about it, the first step was to inform the council. We did that Oct. 21,” he said.
Armijo presented second quarter crime data at the Oct. 21 City Council meeting but did not mention that APD had identified problems with the numbers it publicly released months earlier.
“I think we felt like there was no real disclosure that APD was aware that as much as 20 or 30% of their data could’ve been underreported,” Davis said.
Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said he’s worried that the revelation that the decreases are far less significant will make it harder for the public to trust the Police Department’s briefings in the future.
“I don’t think this was done intentionally, but I think the public is going to have a credibility issue with the Police Department, and this administration and we need to work together as a team to prevent this from ever happening again,” Willoughby said.
At the same time, he said, within the department officers didn’t believe crime had decreased as dramatically as had been reported.
“There’s not an officer that works the streets of Albuquerque that believes crime is down 30%,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like things are down that significantly.”
Councilor Diane Gibson said it is difficult even for councilors to gauge the accuracy of data presented.
“The only way I know how to verify is get as much detail as we possibly can, and that in itself is a challenge, because you don’t know what you don’t know, so we’ll just have to ask a lot of questions,” she said, adding that she hoped people with more insight would join the conversation at public meetings.
APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said the department’s acknowledgment that previous numbers were wrong is reason to trust it moving forward.
“We’re the ones who identified this problem, and we moved to quickly fix it both in the near term and the long term, so we want the public to understand that our goal is to put out accurate information,” he said.