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Property crime down in 2019; other categories increased

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

It had been a year and a day since the Albuquerque Police Department held its last briefing on year-to-year crime statistics – a presentation that was later discovered to have dramatically overstated reductions in nearly every category.

This year, officials say they have learned from their mistakes and are taking greater care to vet the data before releasing it.

“We were always trying to be transparent as quickly as possible and I think one of the lessons we’ve learned is we have to give ourselves time to get the data in and make sure it’s been fully vetted through the records unit before we can count on those statistics,” said Leonard Nerbetski, commander of APD’s Real Time Crime Center. “I think that’s a pretty good lesson learned for us.”

In the briefing Thursday, Nerbetski, Deputy Chief Harold Medina and records division manager Katherine Roybal-Nuñez laid out the data the department submitted to the FBI for 2019 using the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS.

The data shows that, although overall crime decreased, the reduction was driven by such “crimes against property” as burglary, fraud, robbery and motor vehicle theft. “Crimes against persons,” such as homicide, human trafficking, kidnapping and assault, remained constant, and “crimes against society,” such as drug offenses, prostitution and animal cruelty, increased 9%.

“I think this goes to show that, from the very beginning, we’ve been very transparent about the fact that we have a lot of work to do on violent crime,” Medina said. “We’ve been trying to lower them, we’re working, we have a lot of different projects and are working out there in the community.”

Moving in the ‘right direction’

Prior to 2018, APD reported crime statistics using the Uniform Crime Reporting program, or UCR, but has now made the switch to NIBRS, the current national framework.

For that reason, Deputy Chief Medina said, it is very hard to compare data between the two systems and to years before 2018. Thursday’s briefing did not include data from years prior to 2018.

In NIBRS, there are three broad categories – broken down into 52 sub-categories – crimes against persons, crimes against property and crimes against society. It counts every crime committed during an incident, compared to UCR, which only counts the most serious.

“Instead of just capturing the most serious crime, it’s now capturing every crime, giving us a more complete story of the crime that’s being committed in Albuquerque,” Medina said.

Between 2018 and 2019, there was a 7% drop in overall crime, from 75,538 incidents to 70,223. Crimes against property dropped 10% from 57,328 to 51,541.

But crimes against persons increased 1% – from 14,845 to 14,971 – and crimes against society increased 9% – from 3,365 to 3,711.

“We still have crime that’s way too high, but at least we continue to move in the right direction,” Medina said.

He touted “double-digit” reductions in auto theft – something Albuquerque has received numerous black eyes for in the past – but acknowledged they “still have a lot of work to do” in tackling violent crime.

The largest drops in property crime were in auto theft, burglary and most fraud offenses aside from identity theft, which skyrocketed from seven to 437.

The crimes against a person category saw its biggest rises in aggravated assaults, from 5,179 to 5,397, and statutory rape, which jumped from one incident to 10. In homicide offenses, the city saw a large dive in justifiable homicide – from 16 to six – and a rise in negligent manslaughter from three to eight. Overall, there were 80 murders reported in 2019, compared to 69 the previous year.

Crimes against society saw its biggest jumps in drug offenses, from 2,515 to 2,796, and animal cruelty, from 11 to 32. There was a decrease in prostitution offenses, from 130 to 70.

But officials said some increases can be attributed to their “proactive measures”; for instance, the newly formed Gun Violence Reduction Unit’s found more “weapon law violations,” which rose from 596 to 709.

“Some of the new units and initiatives we’ve put into place are generating more arrests and more crime (increases),” Medina said.

APD’s arrest data compiled for the FBI was not immediately available.

Review of data systems continues

For the first year and a half of the current administration, Mayor Tim Keller and Police Chief Michael Geier released crime statistics every quarter, sometimes even a couple of days before the quarter ended.

But last fall, the department revealed that its July briefing had dramatically overstated improvements, sometimes reporting double-digit decreases when it should have only been in the single digits. Prior briefings also overstated reductions since the department was comparing quarterly data before all the reports had been turned in.

Overall, APD officials maintain that overall crime, especially property crime, was decreasing in that time period, just not on the same scale. Medina said the way they had been comparing raw data was not perfect, but it was the best way they had to do it at the time.

“I think we can all agree that the data that we did have showed that there was a decrease,” he said. “I think it was vetted through other locations other than just APD.”

In the wake of the controversy about the flaws in the data, the city hired Peter Winograd, a retired professor with the University of New Mexico, to oversee an independent review of APD’s data systems.

That review is not yet completed, but Winograd said Thursday that he found APD didn’t have an effective and accurate method for tracking crimes committed over time, is using outdated systems to report to the FBI, and didn’t have a way to track missing reports.

“The most important thing I would say is this is a huge amount of information that comes in, there are thousands and thousands of reports that come in every month, and making sure they’re accurate is really time-consuming,” Winograd said. “APD needs good people and a good system to make sure it’s accurate.”

In response to Winograd’s findings, Roybal-Nuñez, the records division manager, said her unit has hired 15 new staff members and is continuing to hire. They also purchased new computers.

Medina said starting in January the area commanders began attending “Duke City Stat” meetings every two weeks, where they share data and are asked to explain why their officers have missing reports.

“When we first started, every commander had a certain amount of reports that were on the lists saying they were missing, but I think in this last ‘Duke City Stat,’ we had zero,” Medina said. “We’re seeing a lot of improvement in that process.”

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