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State has apparent dip in violent crime

Albuquerque police respond to a shooting near Bianchetti Park, near Chelwood and Lomas NE, in 2019. Crime rates in New Mexico remain higher than the national average. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Last year, for the first time in several years, both violent crime and property crime appeared to dip in New Mexico, according to a recently released report from the FBI.

However, the data is misleading, because Albuquerque’s property crime data is not included in the statewide tally and because other jurisdictions – including Bernalillo County, Doña Ana County and eight other counties and a few cities – are not included in the 2019 report.

In any case, crime rates in New Mexico remain much higher than the national average.

The FBI’s annual “Crime in the United States” report, released every fall, collects crime data from law enforcement agencies across the country and provides several tables with data on specific counties, cities and states.

In 2019, property crime in Albuquerque was not included in a table of New Mexico cities because the Albuquerque Police Department had overreported burglaries.

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for APD, said the problem arose due to a rule change regarding apartments and storage sheds. APD had reported more than 80 burglaries, accounting for break-ins at each storage unit across three facilities, but it should have counted each facility that was broken into, not each unit, Gallegos said. He said that the department has since amended the data but that it was not included in the data Albuquerque provided for the annual report.

As for the other jurisdictions, an FBI spokesman said, “The data submitted to the FBI for the agency was not 12 months complete at the publication deadline.”

A spokeswoman for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office said the agency switched to the format required by the FBI – the National Incident Based Reporting System – and has been sending in monthly totals since January 2020.

However, spokeswoman Jayme Fuller said that the deadline for the data to be included in the Crime in the United States report was March 16 and that the FBI’s NIBRS team didn’t notify the BCSO’s contact with the FBI that the Sheriff’s Office passed the certification until May.

“At that time, the deadline had passed and the tables had already been built for publication,” Fuller wrote in an email. “Any data that is received after the deadline is updated in their Masterfiles, but does not appear in their online publication release.”

Asked whether it was correct to say that it was unknown whether crime actually decreased from 2018 to 2019 because some jurisdictions were not reported or fully reported, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Public Safety said, “That would be a fair statement.”

Murder rate up

The data in the Crime in the United States Report shows that across the state, the violent crime rate was 2.7% lower last year – 832.2 crimes per 100,000 in 2019, compared to 856.6 crimes per 100,000 in 2018 – and the property crime rate was 8.9% lower – 3112.7 crimes per 100,000 in 2019 compared with 3,419.7 crimes per 100,000 in 2018.

In 2019, 17,450 violent crimes were reported throughout the state, including murder, rape, robbery and assault, and 65,269 property crimes were reported, including burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.

Violent crime and property crime rates decreased across the country last year. The national violent crime rate decreased 1% from 2018 to 2019 and the national property crime rate decreased 4.5%.

However, national crime rates are still much lower than New Mexico’s.

The estimated violent crime rate in the United States is 366.7 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, less than half the rate of violent crime in New Mexico. Nationwide, the estimated property crime rate is 2,109.9 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, about two-thirds of New Mexico’s rate.

According to an analysis by the Journal both violent crime and property crime began steadily increasing in New Mexico in 2014. Violent crime rates increased 43% from 2014 to 2018. Property crime increased 11% from 2014 to 2017 before beginning to fall.

Nationally, violent crime began decreasing three years before 2019, according to the FBI, and property crime began decreasing 17 years prior.

Although fewer violent crimes were reported in New Mexico in 2019 than the year before, more murder and non-negligent manslaughters were reported, according to the annual report. Statewide, there were 14 more murders in 2019 than in 2018.

Albuquerque reported 15 more murders in 2019 than in the previous year. In 2019, the city reported a record high of 84 cases of murder or non-negligent manslaughter when calculated according to the FBI’s guidelines.

Data reporting changes

Several agencies in New Mexico have changed the way they tally crime data in recent years, ahead of the FBI’s recommendation that all agencies do so by 2021.

Under the new system, the National Incident Based Reporting System, an agency counts all crime in an incident, rather than just the most serious crime committed during an incident, as it did under the previous method, the Summary Reporting System. Whereas the Summary Reporting System broke violent crime into four categories and property crime into four categories, the NIBRS format divides incidents into “crimes against persons,” “crimes against property” and “crimes against society” and includes a total of 32 crimes, some of which are further divided into even more specific categories.

Several jurisdictions in New Mexico – including the Albuquerque, Aztec, Bloomfield, Hobbs, Las Cruces and Sunland Park police departments and Bernalillo, Doña Ana and San Juan County sheriff’s offices – have made the switch, according to a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, and 17 other agencies are in various stages of testing.

While Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Sunland Park are included in the FBI’s report, Bloomfield, Hobbs, Bernalillo County, Doña Ana and San Juan County are not.

The Albuquerque Police Department released its NIBRs data over the summer, finding that crimes against property decreased 10%, crimes against persons increased 1%, and crimes against society increased 9%.

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