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Jail population/crime study called ‘simplistic’

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

A conclusion in a city-sponsored study – that auto thefts are increasing because the jail’s population is going down – seemed too “simplistic” to some professionals in Albuquerque’s criminal justice system.

Excerpts of the study had been used in a news release from Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry on his new crime-fighting agenda and during a presentation he gave to Chamber of Commerce officials last week. The study’s author and several city and police officials presented the full study to a group of lawyers, judges and law enforcement officials focused on criminal justice and jail reform on Thursday.

The study “makes everyone concerned that somebody is making political hay out of the situation rather than really addressing the problems that we’ve been working on for years,” said Matt Coyte, the president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

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The 55-page document concluded that there was “a strong inverse relationship” between the declining jail population and rising automobile thefts in Albuquerque.

Peter Winograd, a retired University of New Mexico professor of public policy, was hired for up to $60,000 to study why property crimes, specifically auto thefts, were on the rise in Albuquerque,

But the “simplistic” conclusion concerned a group of legal professionals that has met regularly to address a long list of factors that have stressed and overcrowded Bernalillo County’s jail and criminal justice system, Coyte said. Several lawyers and judges from the group questioned Winograd about the conclusions he reached.

The average daily population of the 2,200-bed Metropolitan Detention Center has dropped from more than 3,000 inmates in 2010 to 1,700 in 2015. Part of that decrease can be attributed to reforms brought on by an ongoing lawsuit against MDC over jail conditions, including overcrowding.

Berry used Winograd’s study last week to pitch a 14-point crime fighting agenda that included lobbying for tough-on-crime measures like three strikes laws and the death penalty, changes to criminal procedures and focus on mental health and substance abuse treatment efforts.

The study found that car thefts increased by 45 percent from 2014 to 2015. There were 5,179 reported auto thefts in the city last year, which was up from 3,558 cases the years before. During the same period, the average population at the Metropolitan Detention Center dropped from 2,431 to 1,713, a 30-percent decrease.

In 2015, Albuquerque had the ninth-highest rate of auto theft among cities with populations greater than 100,000, and the number of auto thefts was also on the increase through the first eight months of 2016, according to the study.

“It really appears to be a strong relationship,” Winograd said of the jail population and auto theft.

But Coyte pointed out that there were also large increases in auto theft between 1995-96 and from 2005-06, according to FBI statistics. He questioned whether those spikes in auto theft were influenced by the jail’s population.

Winograd also said his report was an “exploratory study” that “raises as many questions as it answers.”

He said that another factor that might have led to an increase in auto thefts is that the number of traffic stops Albuquerque police officers have made in recent years has sharply declined, which possibly leads to fewer arrests. Police pulled over nearly 104,000 drivers in 2010 and just 34,641 in 2015, he said. Police are also serving fewer felony and misdemeanor arrest warrants than they did five years ago.

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