Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Crime continued to rise in the Duke City in 2015 with significant increases in categories ranging from auto theft to murder.
According to statistics compiled in an annual report from the Albuquerque Police Department, both violent crime and property crime numbers were at 10-year highs – both increasing by around 10 percent from 2014.
While the FBI reported that violent crime was up slightly across the country in the first half of 2015, that wasn’t the case in cities of Albuquerque’s size. Violent crime in cities with populations between 500,000 and 999,999 – which encompasses Albuquerque – fell by 0.1 percent. A report for the full year of 2015 has not been released.
Albuquerque’s numbers for the entire year of 2015 do not mirror that. Violent crime, which includes homicide, rape, aggravated assault and robbery, jumped by 9.6 percent while property crime, such as burglary, auto theft larceny and arson, was up 11.7 percent.
Mayor Richard Berry said in a Journal interview that he’s concerned by the numbers and has hired an outside consultant, Peter Winograd, to analyze the data and try to see what may be causing the spike. Berry said he expects Winograd’s report to be released in a month or two.
Winograd is working under a $60,000 contract, Berry said.
APD’s report, initially released in May, shows a spike in murders from 30 in 2014 to 46 in 2015, which is above average over the last 10 years.
There was also a significant jump in auto theft, which increased 45.6 percent year to year. And while APD said it recovers 84 percent of the total value of stolen vehicles, clearance rates for auto theft are low with only 9 percent of those crimes solved, according to the data. The national average is 13 percent.
APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza said auto thefts are considered cleared when someone is arrested on auto theft or receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle charges.
She attributed the rise in auto theft to “warmup thefts,” which is when thieves take advantage of people warming their cars up in winter. She said the department has tried to combat that with a public information campaign.
She attributed the low clearance rate to officers charging offenders for more serious offenses in cases that not only include stealing a car but more serious crimes.
Burglary was the only other crime with a clearance rate of 9 percent. It was also the only crime in Albuquerque that decreased, falling 2 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to the numbers.
Robbery was up 22 percent, with a 20 percent clearance rate.
Meanwhile, the report also said officers made 10 percent fewer arrests in 2015 than in the previous year.
Espinoza said that’s because officers are referring more people to social services or drug treatment programs rather than arresting them.
“When it comes to trespassing or drug offenses, we are really hitting the problem from a different angle for a more results-oriented effort as opposed to arrest, arrest, arrest,” she said.
That comment comes on the heels of a controversial narcotics unit operation that appeared to target homeless drug addicts. Officers posed as drug dealers and locked up multiple people on felony charges, a practice they have said they will continue.
But Espinoza said that operation was not indicative of the department’s larger strategy. “That one sting does not play into that overall picture,” she said.
Mayor Berry acknowledged that low staffing levels could contribute to lower arrest numbers.
He also cited recent changes in the criminal justice system – primarily a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling mandating speedier prosecutions and a decreasing jail population – as possible reasons as to why crime has increased in the most recent two years of his term.
He said Winograd’s report should shed more light on the problem.
“We’ve seen this uptick, now we need to address that through studying the data,” he said. “I can tell my boss the taxpayer that is something we have noticed and we’re looking into why that is.”