APD goes after auto thieves; sting nets 22 arrests, 23 recovered vehicles

Even though it's short staffed, the Albuquerque Police Department decided to do something about the city's out-of-control auto theft problem.

So last week, the department flooded the Southeast Heights with 40 officers, a helicopter and an airplane in a four-day sting against auto thieves. The result was 22 felony arrests and the recovery of 23 stolen vehicles.

And the backgrounds of the suspects arrested on auto theft charges were what one might expect nowadays. Many were repeat offenders who had had multiple past felony arrests and convictions.

(Photo: APD Chief Michael Geier.)

The poster suspect, if you will, 33-year-old Richard L. Newman, had eight prior felony arrests and six previous felony convictions, including one for auto theft, APD Chief Michael Geier said Tuesday in a news conference announcing the sting and its results. Newman was arrested again on Jan. 26 after he was seen driving a stolen vehicle. Newman fled in the stolen vehicle when he was spotted by officers and crashed the vehicle, APD said.

“We need targeted enforcement strategies to keep communities safe,” Geier said. “It's important to note that we are taking a comprehensive approach to fighting crime in Albuquerque – one that is based on sound community policing strategies.”

APD Deputy Chief Harold Medina said the sting was organized in order to minimize danger to the public. For instance, if a suspect who was driving a stolen vehicle fled officers, the officers would break off pursuit and APD's helicopter and airplane tracked the suspects and the vehicles to places where they were eventually arrested.

“As part of our strategy we will work with each community to evaluate the results of these stings, while prioritizing effectiveness and responsiveness to the people who live, work and play in these neighborhoods,” Medina said.

Geier and Medina said the operation basically used old-fashioned police work. Data from APD's Real Time Crime Center showed that the city's Southeast quadrant is where most stolen vehicles are recovered. So for four days, APD flooded the area with about 40 officers who basically used their instincts to spot suspicious drivers or vehicles. Then the officers ran the license plates of the cars, and, 23 of them turned out to have been reported stolen.

In addition to the arrests made and the stolen vehicles recovered, the sting resulted in 19 outstanding felony warrants being cleared, 158 traffic stops, 35 traffic citations and 16 towed vehicles.

Albuquerque is in the midst of an auto theft epidemic. In June 2017, the National Insurance Crime Bureau said the city was the auto theft capital of the nation in terms of the number of auto thefts per capita.

In 2016, approximately 7,700 vehicles were stolen in the city. Geier said he expects that number to top 8,000 for 2017.

Auto theft isn't the city's only crime problem. In fact, Albuquerque is in the midst of an epic crime wave when it comes to violent and property crimes.

In 2017, violent crime in the city jumped by 18 percent over the previous year, and since 2012, violent crime has grown by an astonishing 77 percent.

The massive increase in 2017 was incredible when you consider that nonfatal shootings soared by a unbelievable 148 percent.

Homicides were up 23 percent, robberies were up by 43 percent, rapes were up 21 percent and aggravated assaults climbed by a mere 4.2 percent, according to new crime data the Albuquerque Police Department.

In a news release announcing the auto theft sting, Mayor Tim Keller said he was encouraged by the sting's results.

“Auto theft can hit Albuquerque's families hard and can also be associated with other crimes,” Keller said. “Our communities deserve to feel safe and I appreciate the officers for getting out there to work with the community and tackle this problem.”

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