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Police chief blames repeat offenders, not staffing, for city’s auto theft problem

Caleb James
January 28, 2017 07:07 PM

Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden responded Friday to a spike in auto thefts in the city, skyrocketing more than double since 2013.

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Eden insists a lack of staff is not the problem, but repeat offenders are solely to blame for an increase of more than 5,000 car thefts in three years. Even experts hired by the city say repeat offenders are not the entire story and we pressed the chief on that today.

The Albuquerque Police Officers Association says the auto theft team is ignored and APD admits it has been cut in half in three years. Union President Shaun Willoughby said the 8,000 cars stolen is 2016 is an overwhelming figure, and the APD Auto Theft Unit was sliced in half since 2013.

“Your police department is completely handcuffed,” Willoughby said.

Eden on Friday said the number is inaccurate but he does not have an accurate number to provide. The union stands by its figure. Eden reiterated it's a repeat offender problem and staffing is not an issue.

“You are seeing our field officers engaging in the same people over and over and over,” Eden said.

For example, police arrested Christopher Dominguez for car theft five times in 2015 alone. He appeared in court Friday on another car theft charge and was remanded to a relatively lenient drug court. He was sentenced to eight months last time.

“Those same people are back out on our streets every night victimizing our community,” Eden said.

KOB tackled the repeat offenders issue in an investigative series in 2015, but the APD’s union says staffing is also to blame with resources taken away from auto theft and spread out.

Compare APD’s current six officers in auto theft to the police in El Paso, Texas. That department has a staff of 30 investigating auto thefts, including 17 regular patrol officers and five to six dedicated detectives. The number of car thefts last year in the border town is 813.

“But you have reported on this over and over and over again. If we could fix the issue of repeat offenders, you would see property crime nosedive,” Eden said.

Eden resisted the APD staffing had an effect on the spike. One a day after a KOB story about the statistical increase, APD tweeted a meme joking about warm-up thefts.

“Well, I'll tell you what we've done,” Eden said. “We go out. We do vehicle etchings all the time for people to help protect their cars. We encourage people to protect their belongings from these repeat offenders. We’ve increased patrols.”

The city's own study commissioned in 2016 acknowledged staffing was a contributing factor.

“I will tell you this,” Eden said. “We need 150 new officers. That’s what it says. When those 150 new officers come, we'll reallocate those 150 new officers. Whenever a class graduates, we re-allocate them into units.”

Credits

Caleb James

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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