Rio Rancho resident Nathan Hopper’s custom-made Corvette was stolen last month, leaving him out thousands of dollars. Hopper is just one of hundreds of people living in New Mexico who have recently become victims of motor vehicle theft, which continues to rise.
“It was the worst feeling ever,” Hopper said. “New Mexico is getting bad. There’s so much crime.”
Just in the last month, there were over 350 reports of stolen vehicles and just under 650 reports of vehicle break-ins handled by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), according to the department’s crime mapping site.
In 2015, Albuquerque was ranked the second worst city in the nation for auto theft and break-ins by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). APD recognizes this fact on their website – “Due to the fact that we are adjacent to an International Border, we are always ranked high on the list for theft rates.”
According to the APD website, vehicles are stolen for one of three reasons: to joy ride, to sell for parts, or to drive across the border for resale.
Pickup trucks are the most likely to be targeted in New Mexico, according to the NCIB. In the top five spots are the Ford Pickup, Chevrolet pickup, and Dodge pickup, alongside the Honda Civic and Honda Accord.
Although Hopper wishes more could have been done to recover his stolen car, he says he understands APD is doing all they can to help victims of vehicle theft, and that more dangerous criminals are a higher priority to APD officers.
“Yeah my car got stolen, and it sucks, but I’d rather them be trying to catch the people who really need to be getting caught,” Hopper said.
Hopper says that stricter penalties would help reduce vehicle theft, especially when it comes to repeat offenders.
“People just can’t buy their own stuff, they’re too lazy to do it, or they get out of jail and they do it again,” Hopper said. “When that’s your lifestyle you just don’t care, it’s just what you do.”
The University of New Mexico (UNM) is just one of Albuquerque’s many communities that have been severely impacted by the rise in vehicle theft, especially over the past few years.
According to UNM’s 2016 Annual Clery Report, the number of motor vehicle thefts doubled between 2013 and 2015, from 44 in 2013 to 88 in 2015. In 2016, the number rose to over 120, said Lt. Timothy Stump of the UNM Police Department.
“Most of the people that we catch breaking into cars are doing it because they are trying to acquire drugs,” Stump said. “One positive thing from all of this is that the people that we do arrest do not come from part of the UNM community—we’re not arresting students or faculty, but rather these thefts are coming from folks from the outside coming in.”
Lt. Stump said that this year alone there have been over 70 vehicle break-ins reported on campus, and that the best way to prevent theft is to lock your cars and remove any valuables from the vehicle.
“You’re trusting, when you shouldn’t be,” Lt. Stump said. “The university is big, and for that reason, it is a hotspot for these thefts, because there are so many vehicles sitting around for extended periods of time.”
UNM’s 2016 Annual Clery Report also warns students that they should use some sort of theft deterrent device if they bring their vehicle to campus, and that they should not leave items in plain sight of others who may be walking by their car.
UNM Student Natalie Barka has had multiple problems with vehicle theft, especially at UNM. Barka’s 1998 Chevrolet pickup truck has been burglarized seven separate times—twice in downtown Albuquerque, twice near the Kirtland Air Force base, and three times while she was parked at UNM campus. She says papers and a pocket knife were stolen from her truck’s middle console and glove box, but believes that the thieves were looking for a larger weapon, or possibly confidential information.
“Be careful where you park your car, and do not leave any valuables in your car, including documents with your home address,” Barka said. “It is known that criminals will break into your house from addresses found in the cars they broke into.”
Barka says vehicle theft numbers would not be so high if APD and UNM PD monitored for these break-ins more carefully, and if burglars were given harsher punishments and longer jail terms.
“UNMPD can be found cruising the campus frequently, yet break ins still occur,” Barka said. “Same with parking meter maids—they are quick to give tickets, yet these occurrences still happen.”