On March 12, 2019, Democratic Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez told the very private and very Republican leaning Albuquerque Economic Forum monthly meeting that a unit of 10 prosecutors he assigned to prosecute stolen car cases has begun taking on prosecution of other types of crimes because of the decrease in motor vehicle thefts.
DA Torrez said he appointed the group of 10 prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office more than a year ago because he felt car thefts were having a broad impact on the Albuquerque metro area.
Torrez had this to say about his unit of prosecutors:
“[Auto thefts] had become a dominant narrative about our community, and it was just something that I thought we could solve if we surged those resources to it and we had some specialists. … We’re not nearly where we need to be, we have a long way to go, but it’s encouraging. … The question now is, can we sustain the progress?”
According to Torrez, when his unit of prosecutors started securing high-profile auto theft convictions, defense lawyers became more willing to resolve cases earlier through plea negotiations and agreements which helped increase the flow of cases through the criminal justice system.
For two years in a row, Albuquerque led the country in per-capita car thefts, with nearly 10,000 thefts reported in 2017.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, in 2017 Albuquerque had three times as many per capita car thefts that year than second-place Anchorage, Alaska, and 10 times more than fifth place St. Joseph, Missouri.
Torrez expressed optimism that the city could see its ranking drop dramatically by the end of this year.
The drop auto thefts comes as Albuquerque is in the midst of the longest sustained drop in crime rates in over a decade.
HISTORY OF RISING AUTO THEFT RATES
According to FBI statistics, the overwhelming majority of auto thefts in New Mexico occur in Albuquerque.
From 2013 to 2018, Albuquerque saw more than a three-fold increase in auto theft along with climbing rates of armed robbery, larceny and burglary.
In 2013, a total of 2,743 auto thefts were reported.
In 2016 more than 10,000 vehicles were stolen in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County combined or more than 27 vehicles a day.
In 2016, the city accounted for about 65 percent of the stolen vehicles in the state and about 30 percent of the population.
In 2017, the number of auto thefts reported was 7,684, which was slightly down from 2016 when 7,710 vehicles were stolen.
In June, 2017, the National Insurance Crime Bureau declared Albuquerque “the auto theft capital of the nation” for its rate of auto thefts, with 1,114 vehicle thefts per 100,000 people.
BERNALILLO COUNTY AUTO THEFT SUPPRESSION EFFORT
On March 21, 2018, almost a full year ago, it was announced at a joint press conference the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) and New Mexico State Police (NMSP) were joining forces to address the city’s and the county’s out of control auto theft rates.
The initiative is called the “Bernalillo County Auto Theft Suppression Effort”.
The auto theft suppression effort includes tactical operations that combine technology, resources, manpower and intelligence from all three of the law enforcement agencies to arrest more auto theft suspects and recover more stolen vehicles.
APD concentrated on auto theft sting operations.
APD’s first auto theft sting resulted in 22 felony arrests and 23 recovered vehicles and in the first two months of the year the APD recovered a total of 843 vehicles and made 137 arrests.
The BCSO auto theft unit and its “Fugitive Apprehension & Surveillance Team” assisted APD and the New Mexico State Police with joint operations.
The BCSO participated in monthly tactical plans and used marked patrol cars equipped with a GPS tracker that can be attached to a suspect’s vehicle.
The New Mexico State Police assigned a lieutenant, a sergeant and four detectives to be part of an auto theft unit to work with APD and BCSO by running bait car operations, checking license plates and lending extra resources in the field.
ALBUQUERQUE’S DECREASING CRIME RATES
On December 27, 2018, Albuquerque’s crime statistics for the entire year of 2018 were released reflecting the very first decrease in overall crime in 8 years.
Following are the crime statistics for the entire year of 2018 comparing them with the statistics for the entire year of 2017 as well as the first 6 months of both years.
TOTAL PROPERTY CRIMES FOR TWO YEARS
AUTO BURGLARY FOR TWO YEARS
2017:12,999 (First 6 months: 6,559)
2018: 9,218 (First 6 months: 4,523)
Change: -29% (First 6 months: -31%)
AUTO THEFT FOR TWO YEARS
2017: 7,692 (First 6 months: 3,633)
2018: 5,341 (First 6 months: 3,061)
Change: -31 (First 6 months: -15.7 %)
COMMERCIAL BURGLARY FOR TWO YEARS
2017: 2,298 (First 6 months:1,183)
2018: 1,918 (First 6 months: 994)
Change: -17% (First 6 months -15.9%)
RESIDENTIAL BURGLARY FOR TWO YEARS
2017: 4,704 (First 6 months: 2,207)
2018: 3,847 (First 6 months: 2,075)
Change: -18 (First 6 months -5.9%)
VIOLENT CRIME FOR TWO YEARS
ROBBERY FOR TWO YEARS
2017: 2,930 (First 6 months: 1,467)
2018: 1,887 (First 6 months: 1,012)
Change: -36% (First 6 months: -31%)
AGGRAVATED ASSAULT FOR TWO YEARS
2017: 4,213 (First 6 months: 1,957)
2018: 3,885 (First 6 months: 1,851)
Change: -8 (First 6 months: -5.4)
NON-FATAL SHOOTINGS FOR TWO YEARS
2017: 470 (First 6 months: 60)
2018: 491 (First 6 months: 63)
Change: +4 (First 6 months: +5.0%)
RAPE FOR TWO YEARS
2017: 473 (First 6 months: 236)
2018: 461 (First 6 months: 226)
Change: -3% (First six months -4.2)
HOMICIDES FOR TWO YEARS
2017: 72 (First 6 months: 33)
2018: 65 (First 6 months:39)
Change: -10% (First 6 months -18.2%)
Review of the city’s crime statistics for the entire year of 2018 show the largest decreases in the property crimes of auto burglary decreasing by 29%, and auto theft decreasing by 31%.
Commercial Burglary decrease by 17%, residential burglary decreased by 18% and robbery fell by 36%.
During the entire year of 2018, APD increased sworn police officer salaries, longevity pay for officers and aggressively recruited and hired close to 90 sworn police officers including lateral hires from other departments and new cadets with the Department now at 940 sworn police.
APD dedicated further resources to the auto theft unit to deal with crushing case loads.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is not the first time that DA Raul Torrez essentially tries to take all the credit for the reduction in crime rates ignoring the law enforcement agencies of APD, BCSO and NMSP.
On January 29, 2019, DA Raul Torrez released his report titled “Impact Prosecution”.
The report outlined several of the efforts Torrez implemented in his office aimed to curb crime rates throughout the city, such as changing the culture within the office, creating a Crime Strategies Unit and better understanding criminal networks.
You can read the news report here:
Since assuming office on January 1, 2016, Raúl Torrez has stressed the importance of swiftly holding people accountable for their crimes while also offering many low-level criminal’s chances to reform themselves.
During his first year in office, Torrez blamed judges for increasing Albuquerque’s crime rates because they would release defendants pending their criminal trials when the judges decided that the defendants did not pose an immediate threat to the community.
Torrez also said defense attorneys were “gaming the system” to get their clients out of jail and resisting plea agreements by demanding trials.
Torrez does not seem to recognize that the center of the criminal justice universe does not revolve around him as District Attorney but that universe includes the law enforcement agencies of APD, BCSO, the NMSP, the criminal defense bar, the courts, the corrections system and the laws enforced.
In his presentation to the Economic Forum, District Attorney Raul Torrez at the very least could have given some credit to where credit was due instead of essentially taking all the credit for reducing auto thefts in Albuquerque.
The DA’s office can only prosecute those cases investigated by the law enforcement community.
Raul Torres was quoted as saying “The question now is, can we sustain the progress [of prosecutions with the DA’s office?]
The answer to that question is a resounding yes if Torres fills the 44 vacancies he has in the office, including attorney vacancies, that he has had for well over a year and stop his complaining of lack of resources he is known for in Santa Fe.
When the Bernalillo County Auto Theft Suppression effort was announced by APD, BCSO and the NMSP, it was estimated that tangible results would be seen within a year and that is what exactly happened.
Giving credit to APD, BCSO and the NMSP would have been the decent thing to do by DA Raul Torrez when he spoke to all his buddies at the Albuquerque Economic Forum.
Giving at least some credit to the law enforcement agencies that did all the auto theft investigations, arrests, put the offense reports together and forwarded them to the DA’s office probably would have meant Torrez would not have gotten his picture on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal.
For that matter, giving credit to those who deserve credit would not have been as impressive to the very Republican leaning Albuquerque Economic Forum whose membership will in all likely vote for any Republican who runs against Torrez in 2020, unless of course he has no Republican opponent and the Republicans in the Economic Forum he caters to will not be able to vote for him in the Democratic primary.