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Since 2018, local leaders and authorities have touted a 19% drop in property crime, which drove a decrease in overall crime – even as violence spiked across Albuquerque.
Last year put an end to that narrative.
In 2021, crime went up across the board by 0.85%, according to data released Wednesday by the Albuquerque Police Department.
The slight increase came after the city recorded sizable yearly decreases of 7% and 6% in 2019 and 2020, respectively, largely due to back-to-back drops of 10% in property crime.
But in 2021 property crime had its first increase of under 1%. Violent crime continued to rise, going up 3%, the largest annual increase since 2018.
Gun violations, along with homicide and fraud, saw the largest jumps last year.
Prostitution, drug and stolen property offenses had some of the biggest decreases.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said Albuquerque is in the same boat as many other cities.
“We’re in line with a lot of national trends – we can’t expect to decrease every year. Our trends are still going down on the property crime side and our violent crime is still taking the same course as the rest of this country,” he said.
Medina attributed the slight increase locally to internal investigation and technology lapses hindering auto theft enforcement, people with drug use issues committing more fraud and an increase in guns being taken off the streets.
Medina added that he and other police chiefs around the country – who he speaks with regularly – attribute the increase in crime to bail reform and repeat offenders.
“Every single major city chief is frustrated with the fact that we can’t keep people in custody and we have a revolving door in the criminal justice system and there has to be a middle ground,” he said.
APD released the crime stats the same day FBI Director Christopher Wray sat down with law enforcement leaders from across the state to “publicly acknowledge what we’re up against.”
Wray said, nationwide, violent crime has reached “extreme and even alarming levels.” “As part of that national trend, this region has certainly had its share of gun violence and heartbreak recently,” he said, calling Albuquerque’s homicide spike in 2021 – the highest total in recent history – a “truly horrifying jump.”
Wray didn’t announce any new enforcement tactics but touted the past accomplishments of the FBI’s Violent Crime Gang Task force, who are “laser-focused on reversing the trend of violence.”
He said, additionally, a recent FBI endeavor putting billboards around New Mexico stating “Gun crime = federal crime. No Parole” will “hopefully change some behavior” of criminals and prevent crime from happening “in the first place.”
“I would love nothing more than to hear that everyone seated around me is getting bored by the lack of crime happening here,” Wray said. “But, needless to say, that is definitely not the case right now.”
Albuquerque’s rising crime is nothing new, but changes in the way the data is now compiled make comparing crime stats before 2018 difficult.
In 2018, APD, along with many other departments across the country, switched the format in which it provides crime data to the FBI for its annual Crime in the United States report published each fall.
Previously crime was broken into eight categories – four in property crime and four in violent crime – and only the highest crime in each incident was counted.
Now, under the National Incident-Based Reporting System there are 52 subcategories spread throughout crimes against persons, crimes against property and crimes against society. Each crime committed during an incident is counted.
Before the switch, both violent crime and property crime had been rising steadily in 2015, with large jumps in auto theft, homicides, assaults and robberies.
In 2018, property crime began to fall and, for the past several years, has decreased while violent crime increased or stayed relatively constant.
In 2019, the Journal discovered the preliminary numbers APD had been providing at quarterly media briefings had been a bit too optimistic. However, the general trend remained true and APD has said it’s now making sure to verify all the data before releasing it.
By the numbers
In 2021, the crime stats shifted in the wrong direction.
APD data shows property crime saw its biggest jumps in reports of fraud and robbery.
Medina said fraud, which skyrocketed 61%, from 3,900 to 6,300 cases, rose as APD cracked down on shoplifting, larceny and burglaries. He said those with drug abuse issues moved away from those crimes and began to steal identities, checks and credit cards to “fuel their drug behavior.”
“They’re finding low level crimes to commit in other ways,” he said. “The fraud is just another one of those symptoms.”
Auto theft – which rose for the first time in years – went up 6%, according to APD.
Medina attributed the change to an Internal Affairs investigation into the Auto Theft unit, opened in June 2021, that caused the unit to “take a step back” and become “skittish” in enforcement.
“We know the settlement agreement doesn’t cause crime to go up, but it does create a fear among our officers to be able to do their job and they aren’t as aggressive and proactive,” he said. Medina said APD has since gotten the unit to “overcome that fear” and work within the settlement agreement.
He called the adaptation “a huge, huge benefit” that will lead to a drop in auto theft in the future.
On a positive note, according to the data, property crime saw large drops in stolen property, destruction/damage/vandalism and larceny/theft offenses with 15%, 10% and 7%, respectively. All three categories reached their lowest levels since 2018.
Meanwhile, as with previous years, violent crime kept rising.
Violent crime, known as crimes against persons, saw increases in all but four categories. APD’s data shows the steepest were in homicide, intimidation and aggravated assault – all of which reached their highest levels since 2018 – with spikes of 53%, 20% and 5%, respectively. Sex offenses also jumped 15% as simple assault and kidnapping decreased 11% and 5%, respectively.
According to the data, crimes against society saw a large spike of 66% in gun violations – which has gone up 218% since 2018 – and drops of 26% and 63%, respectively, in drug offenses and prostitution.
Medina said gun violations went up after gun ownership “exploded” during the pandemic, leading to more gun thefts from cars and homes and, in general, more people being armed.
“Eventually, at some point in time, we’ve come across a lot of people with those firearms, and we start making those arrests,” he said. “It’s just a combination of more guns in the community, officers being proactive and us taking the guns off the streets.”