‘Relatively Safe’

Violent and property crimes jumped in Santa Fe last year, but officials seek to reassure residents

Santa Fe's violent crime rate shot up from 2017 to 2018, according to a recently released federal report, and property crimes in the city increased as well, though not as sharply. Spikes in both categories for New Mexico's fourth-largest city run counter to crime decreases nationally during the same time period.

The figures come from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, released Sept. 30. It analyzes self-reported 2018 data from thousands of law enforcement agencies around the country.

New Mexico had the nation's highest property crime rate and second-highest violent crime rate. In Albuquerque, property crimes dipped slightly and violent crimes increased at a slower rate for the state's largest city, which has been beset by soaring crime in recent years.

In Santa Fe, the violent crime rate for 2018 was 394 per 100,000 residents, the FBI report shows. The national average was 380. Violent crimes, which include homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault increased by 14%, with robberies leading the jump. Property crimes, including burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft increased by 6%.

Mayor Alan Webber and Police Chief Andrew Padilla, in separate interviews with SFR, acknowledge the increases, but say their administration uses a broader, deeper set of figures to track crime trends in the city.

By their measurement, the upticks in crime last year aren't as sharp. That's because the city considers more crimes in its analysis and the FBI looks at a limited number of specific offenses.

Over the last 10 years, however, both point out that, as Santa Fe's population has grown, the number of crimes in the city has stayed relatively static—an assertion backed up by past FBI crime reports.

"I think what we're seeing is, for the most part, the community is relatively safe and there are crimes against property that are higher than they were as we deal with drug-related issues," Webber tells SFR via telephone. "Breaking-and-entering or taking something out of somebody's car, it's not the crime that is the cause, it's the utilization that the crime is being put to."

Padilla says property crimes are the city's main challenge "because of the poverty rate [and] opioid addiction, which fuels the larcenies and … people breaking into homes and vehicles so they can grab a quick item or two."

Until the courts find a better way to help people, particularly non-violent, first-time offenders, Padilla believes the system will continue to be a "revolving door."

"If the courts were able to have better funding for mental health issues, addiction, opioid or alcohol, whatever issues they may be having, they need to have realistic court-mandated training or counseling to help people get back on their feet," he tells SFR. "Make sure they comply with a … treatment program. If they commit another crime, then they face the repercussions."

Padilla says that so far in 2019, the number of property crimes has stayed consistent. Using internal data and a decades-old strategy known as "hot-spot" policing, the chief has deployed officers and detectives more heavily near businesses and homes up and down Cerrillos Road, St. Michael's Drive and Zafarano Road on the Southside in an effort to curb property crime.

Webber comes to his SFR interview armed with 2017 to 2018 numbers from the department's internal tracking system. They show a decrease of slightly less than 1% in overall crime in that time period.

But the figures city police provided to the FBI for its annual report show a 7% overall increase in crime during that period.

The increases in Santa Fe bucked the national trend of decreasing crime and, for 2017-2018, contributed to New Mexico's four-year increase.

Santa Fe had property crime increases while Albuquerque saw a 16% decrease. The state's largest city had a 4% jump in violent crime in comparison to Santa Fe's 14%.

Santa Fe County also saw increases in violent crime: a 45% jump led by increases in aggravated assault. Property crimes in the county went down by 12% from 2017 to 2018, according to the FBI report.

Juan Rios, spokesman for the Santa Fe County Sheriff Office, tells SFR that the numbers in the FBI database for the county are "skewed" and like "comparing apples to oranges" when looking at the sheriff's internal data.

"The UCR is not the primary data set that we use to analyze crimes in Santa Fe County," Rios says.

The FBI data is used mainly for federal grant purposes so law enforcement agencies can show their need for additional funding, says Klarissa Romero, UCR Program Coordinator for the state Department of Public Safety.

"Some agencies don't do it because they don't have the manpower or they don't have the time," Romero says, adding that 118 of New Mexico's 123 law enforcement agencies reported in 2018. "Some agencies in New Mexico, there's only one sheriff or two sheriffs or the sheriff is doing the reporting because they don't have a record clerk."

Romero says not reporting the data can create a vicious cycle in which departments don't have enough funds for updated technology or a public information officer and also lack the resources to submit the necessary but voluntary data to the FBI for its annual report.

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