Only One Other City in U.S. Has More Car Thefts Per Capita
Despite Problem, APD Has Cut its Auto Theft Unit
We don’t know what APD is doing to stem the problem because APD refused to respond to ABQ Free Press Weekly inquiries
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Franchesca Stevens never felt the same about her 1990 red Honda Accord after it was stolen last fall.
After finding hypodermic needles, condoms, dirty baby clothes and pieces of stale French fries in the car after it was recovered, Stevens felt like someone “icky” had been in the vehicle she had owned for eight years.
She felt the same way after the second time it was stolen and recovered, and again after the third time it was stolen in less than a year.
“It’s like a bad person has been in the car, and you can’t shake that feeling,” Stevens said. “You never feel as good getting into your car as you used to.”
She isn’t alone: In 2015, the owners of 6,657 vehicles stolen in Albuquerque experienced many of the same feelings.
In 2015, the city had the second-highest theft rate in the nation at 733.7 vehicles stolen per 100,000 residents, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That was second only to Modesto, Calif., which had cars and trucks stolen at the rate of 756 per 100,000 residents.
And the epidemic isn’t slowing: During a seven-day period between Sept. 12 and Sept. 18, 116 vehicles were reported stolen inside the city limits, according to an internal report from the Albuquerque Police Department. That works out to 16.5 vehicles a day.
So what happens to all those vehicles? Where do they go? How many are recovered? Are the thieves arrested and prosecuted?
We don’t know what APD is doing because APD refused to respond to an ABQ Free Press Weekly email asking for auto theft information. The newspaper also requested an interview with someone in the department about the problem. There was no response, which tends to be the case with just about any inquiry this newspaper makes to the official spokespeople of APD and the office of Mayor Richard J. Berry.
Stevens and others who’ve had their vehicles stolen believe the problem is directly related to drugs.
“A lot of people think the cars are sent to Mexico or to a chop shop where they are sold for parts,” said Stevens, who, because of her personal experience, has understandably become something of an expert on the subject.
“But the detectives have told me that it’s usually drug addicts who are stealing cars to sell … So they are joy riding around so they can sell it for a fix, and that’s why they eventually get abandoned.”
Catherine Squire had an experience similar to Stevens’: Her 1999 Honda Accord was stolen from in front of her house last spring. And when it was recovered five weeks later, Squire was disgusted.
“There was a backpack full of needles in the trunk, a lock box, a needle in the door pocket, microfiber cloths and tire irons – probably to break into people’s houses,” Squire said. “There were cards from five different gold and silver places, and it was just infuriating. The guy they arrested had five felony arrests and was a total scumbag.”
Squire said she was told by the detective who worked her case that he was swamped with cases involving repeat offenders – many with rap sheets worse than the guy who stole her car. Shawn Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said the lack of resources at APD, especially in the Auto Theft Unit, is exacerbating the city’s problem.
“There is an average of 104 auto thefts a week, and only four guys in Auto Theft, and they don’t have the time or resources to address this,” Willoughby said. “This is just out of control, and the real reason it’s out of control is that there used to be 12 to 14 people in the unit, and now there are only four.”
Stevens sold her car recently because she grew tired of being a target, and to rid herself of the bad memories.
“You never feel safe in the car,” Stevens said. “It was a sweet little car, and it met its doom.”
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press Weekly. Reach him at email@example.com