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UNM analysis: City’s crime study is inaccurate

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry. (Marla Brose/Journal file)

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry. (Marla Brose/Journal file)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — No, the declining jail population is not to blame for last year’s spike in auto thefts in Albuquerque, according to a University of New Mexico researcher.

Paul Guerin, the director for the Institute for Social Research, reached this conclusion, which is at odds with a city-funded $68,000 study released last month. Guerin discussed his analysis of the city study during a Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Review Council meeting Thursday.

“Correlations are used more often incorrectly than they are correctly in social sciences,” Guerin said in an interview. “Oftentimes, they are not used well. I think this is an occasion where there is not enough information to accurately describe the correlation.”

Peter Winograd, a former UNM professor, completed the city’s study. The findings were announced by Mayor Richard Berry as he kicked off a series of crime-fighting initiatives he is trying to bring to the city, which include hiring security firms to handle nonemergency, low-priority police tasks.

Winograd said that while he and Guerin disagreed on the methodology used to complete the city’s study, they both agreed that a small number of criminals are responsible for the spike in crime.

He said his conclusions were not based solely on the correlation between declining jail population and increasing auto theft, but rather by analyzing data from more than 100 suspects who committed multiple auto thefts.

The number of auto thefts in Albuquerque jumped from 2,773 in 2010 to 5,179 in 2015. During that same time, the average daily population at the Metropolitan Detention Center dropped from 3,007 to 1,712. That, Winograd found, showed the two were strongly correlated.

But Guerin found that, by analyzing about 15 years of data, the correlation is much weaker. In fact, there were high numbers of auto thefts from 2005 to 2009, when the jail’s population was at its highest, according to county statistics.

Groups from various parts of the criminal justice system in Albuquerque – prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and county officials – for the past several years have worked to make reforms to lower the jail’s population. The changes were made amid a yearslong federal lawsuit against the county over conditions, like overcrowding, at the MDC, one of the country’s largest jails.

Bernalillo County operates the facility, which has more than 2,000 beds.

“It was wrong. It was flat wrong and it was unfair to say,” Peter Cubra, an attorney involved in the federal litigation at the jail, said of the mayor’s crime study.

Unlike prisons, which confine convicts, the vast majority of people at jails like MDC haven’t been convicted of a crime and are waiting for their day in court. So the mayor’s study perplexed many criminal justice professionals, who said it seemed to imply that locking up people without first convicting them was a sound crime-fighting strategy.

Albuquerque police Chief Gorden Eden said that when discussing improvements to the local criminal justice system, it’s important to remember the effect crime has on the victims.

“I firmly agree there are people in jail who should not be in jail. There’s no reason for them to be in jail awaiting trial,” Eden said. “The purpose of the (mayor’s) study was to identify … the people who reoffend.”

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