Between 2018 and 2021, crimes against property in Albuquerque decreased in all areas except for fraud. According to an Albuquerque Police Department “Crime Trends in Albuquerque” report, motor vehicle thefts decreased from 6,896 in 2018 to 5,520 in 2021. There were 5,685 fewer larceny/theft offenses in 2021 than 2018 and burglary/breaking-and-entering crimes decreased by 1,645 over the same four-year period. Robberies, vandalism and stolen property crimes also decreased, while fraud crimes jumped by 2,396 between 2020 and 2021.
Despite the decrease in property crimes, residents in the far Northeast Heights have been vocal about catalytic converter thefts, shoplifting and vehicle break-ins. On June 16, a community meeting was held with District 4 City Councilor Brook Bassan and now-retired Northeast Area Commander Greg Weber to discuss shoplifting at the Whole Foods on Wyoming and Academy, among other issues. On July 21, the new Northeast Area Commander, Deanne Otzenberger, several APD officers and Albuquerque Community Safety employees stood in front of the Walgreens on Menaul and Carlisle during the snow cone with a cop event as a show of force and to “lock down” the area to prevent businesses from being targets for crime and theft.
Ricky Oleson, customer service specialist with ALTO US, explained what businesses and individuals can do to protect property against criminals while at the July 21 event. Oleson said one thing businesses can do is partner with companies like ALTO, which specialize in loss prevention and tech-enabled security services. He said hiring private security companies, using cameras and alarms also acts as a deterrent, helping to keep criminals away from those businesses.
When asked what else can be done to stop shoplifters, Oleson said current laws prevent misdemeanors from being aggregated into felonies and make it harder to dole out harsher punishments for repeat offenders. “Really the only thing that’s going to change that is the change in legislation. Getting out and voting, supporting people who support an organized retail crime bill in New Mexico. That’s one of the big things that the state needs,” Oleson said.
He said shoplifters won’t face felony charges for anything under $500 and that if they get caught a second or third time, they will still only face misdemeanor charges even if the accumulated value of the stolen goods is over $500. “Misdemeanors are basically nothing, unfortunately,” Oleson said. “So, it’s very unlikely that somebody is going to face some sort of court punishment on a misdemeanor. It’s going to be a slap on the wrist.”
House Bill 29, introduced in the state legislature earlier this year, proposes charging repeat shoplifters and thieves with felonies based on the aggregated value of the merchandise stolen in one calendar year. Section D in the current version of the proposed bill reads, “Whoever commits organized retail crime when the aggregated value of the merchandise taken, concealed, altered or transferred is over five hundred dollars ($500) but not more than two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) is guilty of a fourth-degree felony.”
If the aggregated value of stolen goods is over $2,500 but less than $20,000, offenders will be charged with a third-degree felony, and if the aggregated value is over $20,000, they will be charged with a second-degree felony. Oleson said it is important to pass the legislation to “stem the tide” of repeat offenders and to also hold those who purchased the stolen goods accountable for their actions. “But until that gets in the legislation it’s just not going to change,” Oleson said.
To prevent home and vehicle break-ins, APD encourages residents to form neighborhood watch groups to report any crimes they witness to APD and to preserve evidence, including surveillance footage. Ric Ingram, a sergeant with APD’s Northeast Area Command, said officers can utilize Ring’s Neighbors App to ask for video footage from anyone in a certain vicinity. He said APD only uses the videos when the camera owners agree to share the footage. Ingram said those using the Neighbors App will be contacted by APD to share the footage and that when there are multiple witnesses it helps improve a prosecutor’s case. Additionally, Community Connect, a new program announced by the city Friday, allows residents to directly share their video footage with the APD, including an option connect it directly to the APD’s Real Time Crime Center.
James R., who lives in the Cherry Hills neighborhood, offered his own advice on how to deter criminals. “I’m unable to fit all vehicles in my garage (nice problem to have), so I use driveway alarms to alert me if someone approaches my vehicle in my driveway at night,” James wrote in a direct message. “The quality of these alerts has improved immensely lately. If properly placed, I experience very few, if any, false alarms. The idea is not to intervene, but to be aware of night-time shoppers and to set off the vehicle’s alarm via a key fob, so that they move right along. Obviously, cameras alone aren’t the answer when they often just show the ‘after-the-fact’ thing when damage has likely been done.”
Other residents have proposed creating a neighborhood alert system similar to an Amber Alert to notify neighbors when a suspicious person is in the area. Another Cherry Hills resident, who only wishes to go by Patrick, said he is willing to take more serious measures if he feels his life is threatened.
“I conceal carry (licensed and legal) only for protection – I have zero desire or intent to ever use that firearm for anything but poking holes in paper at the range, but if I am forced to brandish or even discharge that firearm, I will do so without hesitation,” Patrick wrote in an email. “Again, I never wish to do so and pray it never comes to that, but we are in such a state of disrepair that I must consider the possibility.”
When it comes to property theft and shoplifting, Oleson reiterated the importance of not intervening. “I’ve worked at stores where we were allowed to actually physically detain people and then as time went on and that became more and more dangerous, it became less of a thing that we were doing,” Oleson said. “I myself have been personally stabbed in the face twice. I’ve been punched, I’ve been maced, I’ve been … everything that you can think of. So I’m OK with people not doing anything, and I know it’s a frustrating thing for people to see when people are walking out with a cart full of merchandise in the store and people are standing around doing nothing, but for the sake of safety, it’s just not worth it.”