New Mexicans tired of seeing their state at the top of all the worst national rankings will not be heartened by the FBI’s latest crime statistics, which show the rates of violent crime and property crime increased in 2017.
The newly released data show the state again ranked among the most dangerous last year.
But this may not be case closed.
The data also show crime fell in many New Mexican cities beyond Albuquerque. And officials in New Mexico’s biggest city say they are beginning to turn around a yearslong rise in crime.
The same FBI report released Monday showed the violent crime and murder rates declining nationally for the first time since 2014. And even after steady increases from 2015-16, the murder rates have remained at an overall rate not seen since the 1960s.
In Santa Fe, the FBI data show some property crime and violent crime falling, if just slightly.
But the number of murders and cases of non-negligent manslaughter rose from one in 2016 to four in 2017, according to the FBI’s data. Reports of rape increased, too.
The number of burglaries rose and reports of larceny declined, according to the FBI data. And while the numbers show a decrease in auto theft, police say they continued to see an increase last year from 223 in 2016 to 246 in 2017
“I’m more confident in the numbers we have,” said Deputy Chief Robert Vasquez.
The FBI’s annual statistics can include inconsistent data or at least make for difficult comparisons between communities due to the various ways different police departments gather and categorize information.
The trend in auto theft can be traced in part to the city’s proximity to an interstate and stolen vehicles proving popular for trafficking and committing other crimes, Vasquez says.
Other trends reflect opportunity, such as an increase in breaking into cars and a decline in breaking into homes to commit burglary, he said.
Much of it comes back to some broader problems, officials say.
“When it involves property crime, it has to do with drugs. One leads to the other,” said Santa Fe County Sheriff Robert Garcia. “When you get rid of the addiction problem, you will see property crimes go down.”
While some New Mexico cities have seen crime rates flatten or fall, Albuquerque’s have risen in recent years.
Politicians, pundits and just about everyone else have come up with their theories about the real-life public safety concerns in the city that brought the world Breaking Bad.
Some have blamed under staffing in the Albuquerque Police Department, which has been racked by scandal, with the U.S. Department of Justice declaring in 2014 that it had demonstrated a pattern or practice of using excessive force. Others point to changes in the way judges set bail for criminal suspects, which conservatives in particular have described as creating a “catch and release” system in the courtroom.
Then, there are the persistent woes common to much of New Mexico — high rates of poverty and unemployment coupled with stubborn substance abuse problems made only worse by the rise of methamphetamine.
Albuquerque police say this year has so far seen a decline in many crimes. Officers had conducted 35 percent more traffic stops as of Sept. 5 while robberies had fallen 40 percent. On Monday, Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez said crime was down for the first time in nearly eight years.
“Obviously we are making progress under the new administration,” Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said. “We are changing the culture at APD so we can effectively lower crime and make the neighborhoods safe with a comprehensive approach to addiction, behavioral health and homelessness.”
Of course, if the data hold, this would still amount to just a start in reversing a long trend that has come to reflect New Mexico’s halting recovery from the recession.
The state ranked first in the country for burglary and robbery and second in the country for motor vehicle theft behind Alaska — an improvement from 2016.
Violent Crimes Per 100,000 Residents For 2017
District of Columbia 1,004.9
New Mexico 783.5
South Carolina 506.2
South Dakota 433.6
North Carolina 363.7
New York 356.7
West Virginia 350.7
North Dakota 281.3
Puerto Rico 232.6
Rhode Island 232.2
New Jersey 228.8
New Hampshire 198.7