On June 26, 2019 it was announced in its annual report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) that Albuquerque metropolitan statistical area for the 3rd year in the row has ranked number #1 in auto thefts in the country. The #1 ranking is despite a 27% decrease in auto thefts. The Albuquerque metropolitan statistical area includes the 4 counties of Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties.
The country as has seen a decrease in auto theft overall, but Albuquerque area has made even bigger and more significant gains in reducing auto thefts. According to the annual NICB report, in 2018 almost 2,700 fewer cars were stolen in the Albuquerque area than the year before, a 27% decrease. In 2017, 1,096 cars were stolen per 100,000 residents and in 2018 that figure was 780 cars stolen per 100,000 residents .
Notwithstanding the 27% decrease in auto thefts, it was not enough to reduce the Albuquerque metropolitan statistical area as the number one ranking area in the country for stolen vehicles per capita in the country. While the Albuquerque area had 27% fewer stolen vehicles in 2018 than in 2017, the city of Albuquerque saw a slightly higher decrease of 29%. According to APD data, there have been 1,135 fewer stolen vehicles so far this year over the same time period last year. (2019: 1,718 compared to 2018: 2,853)
During a June 26, 2019 news conference at the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) headquarters, law enforcement officials stressed that local and statewide agencies have made huge gains in tackling the auto theft problem which explains the 27% decrease in auto thefts.
Devin Chapman, the executive director of the Office of Superintendent of Insurance’s NM Auto Theft Prevention Authority had this to say about the auto theft statistics:
“We haven’t been emphatic enough about the hole we were in when this thing started a couple of years ago. … Our numbers in Albuquerque were so far beyond anybody else’s in the country. It’s something we’ve been digging out of ever since.”
Chapman went out of his way to point out that in 2017, in the Albuquerque area, almost 300 more vehicles were stolen per 100,000 residents than in the number two spot of Anchorage, Alaska. Chapman added that while the biggest drop has been seen in Albuquerque, auto theft numbers also declined in the 3 surrounding counties of Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties. APD deputy chief Harold Medina added:
“Nobody had a larger decrease in the top five and, in the top 10, only one other agency had a larger decrease.”
HISTORY OF INCREASING AND DECLINING AUTO THEFT STATISTICS
In 2013, a total of 2,743 auto thefts were reported in Albuquerque. From 2013 to 2017, Albuquerque saw more than a three-fold increase in auto theft along with climbing rates of armed robbery, larceny and burglary. More than 20 vehicles were being stolen each day in 2016 and 2017. More than 10,000 vehicles were stolen in 2016 in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County combined or more than 27 vehicles a day. In 2016, Albuquerque accounted for approximately 65% of the stolen vehicles in the state with the city having about 30% of the state’s total population. In 2017, the number of auto thefts reported was 7,684, which was slightly down from 2016 when 7,710 vehicles were stolen. The APD initial reports for 2018 showed auto thefts were down to 5,447 auto thefts.
According to statistics released by APD and the NMSP, the number of cases generated and handled by APD and NMSP in 2018 was 200 auto theft cases with 154 felony arrests and 136 stolen vehicles recovered. The statistics released by APD and the NMSP for the first quarter of 2019 reflect 85 auto theft cases generated with 77 felony arrests and 68 stolen vehicles recovered. In the first quarter of 2019, APD reported that there were 28% fewer auto thefts, a total of 1,787, than in the same period in 2018, when there were 2,482.
LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONDS, DEDICATES RESOURCES
The three largest law enforcement agencies in the State of New Mexico are the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department (BCSO) and the New Mexico State Police (NMSP).
On March 21, 2018, a little more than a year ago, it was announced that APD, BCSO, 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 suspects and recover more stolen vehicles.
APD for the past year has been concentrating on auto theft sting operations with assistance from BCSO and NMSP. In 2018, 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. BCSO auto theft unit and its “Fugitive Apprehension & Surveillance Team” have assisted APD and the NMSP with joint operations.
In late 2017, the New Mexico Office of Superintendent of Insurance organized a metro area task force to identify repeat auto thieves. During the 2018 legislative session, legislation was enacted and signed into law giving the office authority to investigate and prosecute auto thefts.
In February 2018, Bernalillo County District Attorney Office (DA) created a team of 10 attorneys to solely focus on prosecuting car thieves. According to officials with the DA’s office, it targets defendants with multiple arrests in order to more efficiently prosecute cases. Prior to the changes in the DAs office, if a defendant had several cases against pending against them, different attorneys would be assigned to each one. Now, one prosecutor follows all of a defendant’s car theft cases.
All four law enforcement agencies have dedicated a considerable amount of resource to deal with auto thefts as has the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance Auto Theft Team and the Bernalillo county District Attorney’s Office. The breakdown is as follows:
1. The APD Auto theft Unit consists of 7 detectives, 1 sergeant and 1 lieutenant. In early 2018, APD began hiring paralegals to help APD Detectives compile all the necessary paperwork needed for a complete a final offense report file forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office.
2. The BCSO Auto Theft Unit consists of 5 detectives, 1 sergeant and 1 lieutenant.
3. The NMSP Auto Suppression Unit consists of 3 detectives, 1 sergeant and 1 lieutenant. Prior to February 2018, before the joint law enforcement effort to combat auto theft, the State Police did not have a unit dedicated specifically to auto theft.
4. The New Mexico Office of Insurance Auto Theft Team consists of 6 agents, 2 prosecutors and 2 paralegals.
NM LEGISLATURE FAILS TO INCREASE FUNDING
During the 2018 legislative session, the New Mexico Legislature created the “Auto Theft Prevention Authority” under the Office of Superintendent of Insurance. The authority works with local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies to tackle auto thefts. The authority asked for more funding during the 2019 legislative session, but the bill died in a Senate Committee. The Auto Theft Prevention Authority expects to close out the year with fewer than 4,000 total stolen cars, or a 30% decrease over the previous year.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Frustration is being upset or annoyed because of an inability to change or achieve something you work so hard to achieve and not achieving it. When it comes to law enforcement in Albuquerque, the city ranking #1 one in auto thefts for the 3rd year in a row with a 27% decrease in auto thefts fits the very definition of frustration. Notwithstanding the frustration, law enforcement is making significant progress when it comes to reducing auto thefts in Albuquerque and the surrounding area.
All taxpayers and voters of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and the State of New Mexico pay for, in one form or another, to maintain APD, BCSO, the NMSP, the DA’s Office and the New Mexico Office of Insurance. Government agencies in one form or another are in constant competition with each other for personnel, funding and resources from the State and Federal governments. Usually law enforcement agencies are highly territorial in many respects and that is to be expected and needs to be respected given the nature of law enforcement.
There are many times that three agencies of APD, BCSO and NMSP do cooperate and collaborate with each other in cases, especially cases involving SWAT call outs, high profile emergencies such as school shootings, police officer involved shootings, and with tasks forces involving federal authorities. However, the three law enforcement agencies normally do not work together to investigate day to day crime in that each law enforcement agency have their own cases to deal with exclusively.
When the all the agencies work together, exchange data and coordinate resources for a common goal, without concern the big winners are always the citizens and voters. The formation of “Bernalillo County Auto Theft Suppression Effort” is a recognition by all three agencies just how much they need each other for the common good of serving and protecting the citizens of New Mexico. The Bernalillo County Auto Theft Suppression Effort has been a major step in reducing our out of control auto theft rates. If the statistics now being reported on auto thefts are any indication of what can be accomplished with cooperation between all the agencies, the city should see even further decline in the number of auto thefts.
No doubt auto thefts are still too high in Albuquerque. When your car gets stolen you will not believe auto thefts are down and the numbers will mean absolutely nothing to you. However, the efforts to reduce the city’s auto theft rates by 27% are working and need to continue. Sooner rather than latter another city will rank number one in auto thefts.