Editorial: APD’s dent in auto theft is a dent in all metro-area crime

It’s a bit of good news to be sure. Maybe not the shout-it-from-the-rooftops variety, but good news nonetheless.

For the first time in recent years, the Albuquerque metropolitan area isn’t among the top five nationally for auto thefts.

OK, being sixth might not sound like reason to celebrate, especially as the city faces a record number of homicides. But consider this: According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the region including Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia and Torrance counties saw a 9% decrease in auto theft from 2019 to 2020 and a 42% drop from 2017.

(The top five list we’re no longer a part of includes Bakersfield, San Francisco and Yuba City in California, along with Denver, Colo., and Odessa, Texas.)

The 5,835 auto thefts in the Albuquerque Metro area last year translate into a rate of 632 per 100,000 people in 2020 – almost 16 stolen cars a day. That might sound like a lot – because it is a lot. But it’s important to acknowledge those numbers represent a significant improvement.

That’s also crucial because auto theft plays an outsized role in driving other criminal activity. Stolen vehicles often fit in the plans for those committing other crimes including armed robberies. Plates on a stolen vehicle aren’t as likely to lead police to the perpetrator.

A number of factors went into the improvement, including APD’s aggressive use of bait cars and partnerships with State Police and the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance. And perhaps the message is finally resonating with the public to take common-sense precautions including take your keys, lock your vehicle and do not leave it running outside the house on a frosty morning.

Because car thieves are on the prowl. Earlier this month, APD officers exchanged gunfire with a Santa Fe man who had allegedly stolen a bait car from an apartment complex parking lot on Central near Louisiana. Over the next hour or so, Dalton Cunningham is accused of leading officers across town, then firing at them with a stolen gun. Two officers returned fire, striking Cunningham in the chin. Cunningham, who allegedly had ammunition and drugs including fentanyl and possible methamphetamine, has been linked to another auto burglary still under investigation. He is being held in custody pending trial.

Medina once again expressed frustration with what he describes as the revolving door of the justice system.

“We need assistance from the courts, we need assistance from prosecutors and we have to do what’s right for the people of Albuquerque,” he said. “Individuals who are in stolen cars are committing a wide variety of crime.”

That was a sentiment echoed by Mayor Tim Keller, who credited proactive policing in comments to KOB-TV and cited the need for help from other partners in the criminal justice system to “ensure the same offenders are not on the streets stealing more vehicles.”

Meanwhile, Medina said he would like to work with state lawmakers to address the auto theft problem and tell them what APD officers trying to deal with it face on the streets.

They would do well to listen.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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