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#abq4ward: Can $4 a year help fix Albuquerque's auto theft problem?

Chris Ramirez
August 17, 2017 10:30 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- If there was ever a time New Mexico was desperate for new ideas and new ways of thinking about fighting crime, it feels like that time is now. With crime rates soaring in Albuquerque, city and state leaders have to come to the conclusion that whatever they are doing now isn’t working. 

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In an effort to move ABQ4ward, KOB's news team has been looking at best practices around the nation to combat crime. One idea really stuck out.

In 1991, the Texas State Legislature and governor created the Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority. It collects $2 from each auto insurance premium. If a motorist has one vehicle insured, that totals $4 a year. In 2016, the pool of money allocated to the authority amounted to about $31 million. 

Every year, police departments across Texas apply for grants from the authority to use to bolster up manpower and resources to combat auto theft and auto burglary.  The results today are astounding.   Many cities, including El Paso, formed task forces specifically designed to prevent vehicle thefts. 

"The task force follows up on every auto theft case in the El Paso area," El Paso Police Sgt. Robert Gomez told KOB. "They also conduct salvage checks or make sure cars aren’t parted out. They also do motor checks at the car dealerships to make sure they are in compliance with the rules."

The proof of El Paso’s success is in the numbers. In 1991, El Paso averaged more than 5,000 auto thefts a year. In 2016, the task force reduced that number to fewer than 800. The task force is now funded to staff 30 dedicated people, 26 of them sworn police officers. 

Compare those figures to Albuquerque’s reality.  In 2016, Albuquerque’s auto thefts hit 7,710.  According to the APD chief’s office, only eight officers are wholly dedicated to the auto theft unit.   

KOB showed El Paso's successes to state Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque. Gentry had already been looking at ideas from other states.

"One thing we are doing in the interim is taking a review of what other states and municipalities have done well and seeing the if apply those to New Mexico," Gentry said. 

Regarding Texas’s $4 idea, Gentry said New Mexico’s leaders shouldn’t discount any idea at this point. 

"Everything needs to be on the table," he said. "We are currently in a crisis, both from violent crime and personal violent crime. We need to look at everything and evaluate all our options."

Even if the idea sailed through the next legislative session, the bill would need final approval from Gov. Susana Martinez. If an idea like that came to her desk, would she be amenable to it? 

"I have no doubt that the increased number of men and women in the auto theft department would help Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, as well as the state," she said. "But I don’t think we need to put it on the backs of our citizens to increase costs from them."

Does $4 a year just feel too steep for this kind of idea?

"No, I don’t think it’s too steep," Martinez replied. "I think it’s something that shouldn’t have to be on the backs of New Mexicans. It can happen in collaboration. Why aren’t we making sure we are putting more units that are going to make a big difference, instead of isolating jurisdictions?" 

Despite the enormous successes driving down auto theft in Texas, Martinez isn’t sold on the idea, insisting on better cooperation between agencies. 

What has happened in Texas is proof that dedication from the top makes a difference.

Credits

Chris Ramirez

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

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