Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Both violent and property crimes appear to have increased in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County in 2020, according to unofficial data recently released to the Journal in response to an Inspection of Public Records Act request.
The statistics that the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office sent to the FBI for its annual Crime in the United States report show that violent crime – homicides, rape, robbery and aggravated assault – increased 26.6%, from 792 incidents in 2019 to 1,003 in 2020.
Property crimes – burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson – increased 16.5%, from 2,647 to 3,084.
Records Department personnel and a BCSO spokeswoman stressed that the statistics are “considered raw data and unofficial” and that the agency was in a transition period and becoming compliant with a new way of reporting data to the FBI. No one from BCSO would do an interview with the Journal.
Crime within city limits followed different trend lines during the same period of time – with property crimes decreasing and violent crime increasing only slightly. For 2020, the Albuquerque Police Department reported a 10% decrease in crimes against property and a 2% increase in crimes against persons and a 4% increase in crimes against society, which includes animal cruelty, drug offenses, prostitution, weapon law violations and more. Homicides in the city have increased dramatically since the start of 2021.
However, the two agencies categorize crimes differently, making it hard to compare them.
APD breaks down crimes into 52 separate categories across crimes against persons, crimes against property, and crimes against society in accordance with National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS. BCSO will continue to use the “traditional” eight-category format, spokeswoman Jayme Fuller said.
“The data we provide will still be the same format; the only difference is how NIBRS uses those codes and deciphers it into their published data submitted to the FBI,” Fuller wrote in an email. “NIBRS is an optional program. All agencies can collect data in the way they wish and still be NIBRS compliant as long as the final NIBRS submissions meet the FBI’s technical specifications.”
Bernalillo County’s population is about 678,000 but the Sheriff’s Office has primary law enforcement responsibility for about 118,000 residents who live in 973 square miles outside the city’s jurisdiction.
A national study from the U.S. Department of Justice reported that there was only a small increase – less than 1% to 4.5% depending on the category – in crime rates when agencies switch from reporting their data in the traditional summary format – which only counts the highest-level crime committed during an incident – to the NIBRS format – which counts each crime committed during an incident.
Fuller and Sheriff Manuel Gonzales, who is running for mayor, did not respond to questions about what the sheriff believes caused an increase in crime in his jurisdiction or what steps the office has taken to address the increase.
Crime data irregularities
An agency’s participation in the annual report is voluntary, said representatives from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.
BCSO’s crime stats have not been included in the FBI’s annual report since the 2018 publication on the 2017 data.
That’s because for 2018 BCSO only submitted five months of data and for 2019 the FBI had not received any data by the deadline, according to the UCR program.
Fuller, the BCSO spokeswoman, said prior to June 2018 APD handled the Sheriff’s Office’s data submissions. She said the deadline to submit 2019 stats was in March of 2020 but the Sheriff’s Office wasn’t certified as being compliant until May.
“We did submit all of our ‘catch-up’ stats which were updated in the FBI master files but were not able to be published due to the deadline issue,” Fuller said.
She said now BCSO’s data is submitted monthly by Motorola, which pulls the statistics from its Record Management System.
Initial stats inaccurate
Ten days before the end of 2020, Sheriff Gonzales and then-U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson held a news conference about the partnership between the two agencies.
BCSO provided “unofficial and preliminary” crime stats for the year and credited task forces for a decrease in both violent crime and property crime in Bernalillo County.
The data was “raw” and had “not been analyzed and cleaned up for NIBRS submission.” And Capt. David Funes, with BCSO’s Criminal Investigation Division, acknowledged to the Journal that the decrease touted during the news conference could have been due to the fact that it usually takes a couple of weeks for reports to be included in the statistics.
In fact, the numbers the Sheriff’s Office reported at the news conference do differ significantly from what they provided to the FBI.
At the news conference BCSO said there had been 81 reported robberies in 2020, a double digit decrease from the year before. However, the department reported 127 robberies to the FBI – a 47% increase from the year before.
Similarly, BCSO said there had been 377 burglary cases through 2020 – a 29% decrease from the previous year – but reported 615 burglaries to the FBI – a 9% increase over the previous year.
At the news conference BCSO said there were 945 larceny (theft) cases – a 19% decrease from the previous year – but reported 1,507 cases of larceny to the FBI – a 28% increase.