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ABQ study: Fewer people in jail equals more crime

A new study of crime data shows that a rise in Albuquerque's crime rate correlates directly with the reduction in population at the metro jail. (Source: City Of Albuquerque)

A new study of crime data shows that a rise in Albuquerque’s crime rate correlates directly with the reduction in population at the metro jail. (Source: City Of Albuquerque)

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

A new study of crime data in Albuquerque concludes that a rise in the city’s crime rate correlates directly with a significant reduction in population at the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Peter Winograd, a retired University of New Mexico professor hired by the city to analyze local violent and property offense rates, said the number of people released from jail as a result of changes there and in the legal system have had a much greater influence on crime than either the economy or the size of the Albuquerque Police Department.

“That’s the most direct, straightforward relationship, and we researched it as best as we can,” Winograd said. “It’s causal. It’s not just correlation.”

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry will discuss the study, its implications and some plans the city has to address crime during a Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce luncheon today from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Albuquerque.

The city commissioned Winograd to undertake the analysis after the release of 2015 crime data that found Albuquerque’s crime rate climbing.

Berry also said during a meeting with Journal reporters and editors on Tuesday that while crime is up in Albuquerque, it is not at historic levels and that the uptick mirrors trends in many cities.

“I hear people in the community talk about crime being the worst it’s ever been, when that’s simply not the fact,” Berry said. “I think it’s important from an economic development standpoint and a citizen’s standpoint to have some data on that.”

autotheftgfxViolent crime rose 9.2 percent in 2015 compared with 2014, and the property crime rate rose by 11.5 percent, according to crime data. But Berry said historical data shows the rates as measured by population remain much lower than some years during the 1980s and ’90s.

Albuquerque’s violent crime rate – which was 966 per 100,000 residents – was higher than rates in similar-sized cities, including Tucson, Louisville, Ky., Las Vegas, Nev., and Oklahoma City in 2015.

And the city’s property crime rate was higher than that of Las Vegas, Nev., Oklahoma City and Louisville, while slightly lower than Tucson’s.

“We know the FBI crime statistics, but I wanted to peel the onion a little bit,” Berry said. “We (tried to) paint an unvarnished picture of what’s going on here and give us an idea of where to put the resources we have.”

Auto thefts, which increased significantly in recent years here, were a particular focus of the study, which concluded that repeat offenders – some of them in and out of jail multiple times in a single year – played a major role in the increase.

In 2010, 2,773 auto thefts were reported in the city. In 2015, there were 5,179.

The study found that those numbers have risen while the jail population decreased. The jail’s average population was 3,008 in 2010, and it was 1,713 in 2015.

One reason cited for the decrease in jail population stemmed from a November 2015 decision in which the Supreme Court reiterated that defendants in almost all cases were entitled to reasonable bail while awaiting trial. The court ruling has resulted in prisoners arrested on suspicion of property and other crimes being released from custody, according to the study.

That, in turn, has led to the spike in auto theft, Winograd said.

People with a history of felony property crimes arrests commit 48 percent of auto thefts in the city, according to the study. And Albuquerque police solve only about 9 percent of auto thefts. Therefore, Winograd concluded, people arrested on suspicion of auto theft have committed similar crimes they were never charged with.

Berry will discuss at today’s luncheon the study and several initiatives he has planned in response to the crime rates.

One, he said, will be creating a portal on the city’s website where people can check the crime rate in a given ZIP code, which will be a useful tool for community members and neighborhood associations.

He said he also will ask the City Council to approve a project in which retired officers will be brought back, possibly under contract, to work on a community response team that would respond to and investigate low-priority calls like property crimes in which the victim isn’t in imminent danger.

Berry said he also will lobby for an amendment to the state Constitution voters will consider on Election Day.

The amendment would allow judges to hold defendants charged with serious crimes without bond before trial if they were deemed to be a threat to community safety. The measure also would make it less likely low-risk defendants are forced to wait in jail simply because they are too poor to post bail.

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