New strategy aims to tackle Albuquerque's top property crime offenders

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - They've been called the worst of the worst when it comes to thieves and burglars in Albuquerque. Police have complained about arresting the same people over and over again. So is a new approach helping to fix that problem?

Time and time again, Albuquerque police are seeing familiar faces; career cops arresting career criminals.

"I mean last summer it was, just seemed like a revolving door," said Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden.

The "revolving door," is a term the public has heard the Albuquerque Police Department say a lot, or the phrase "catch and release," when it comes to repeat offenders.

"We're arresting the same people over and over again," Albuquerque Police Officer Fred Duran told KRQE News 13 back in January.

A suspect with a long criminal history is arrested, booked into jail, then let back out on the streets.

"It affects everybody," Chief Eden told KRQE News 13.

Detectives noticed that pattern particularly with property crime offenders, the army of car thieves and burglars constantly prowling the city.

"I think there's just been a systematic failure of the entire system," said Chief Eden.

The APD Chief sat down with KRQE News 13 to talk about the problem and what the department hopes will be a solution to slowing this plague of crime.

He said it starts with the relationship between APD and newly elected Bernalillo County District Attorney, Raúl Torrez.

"Reducing overall property crimes is one of the top priorities for this administration and for this office," Torrez told KRQE News 13.

"We're reorganizing this office around a data-driven approach that uses the relative risk of specific defendants to dictate how many resources we dedicate to prosecuting those defendants," Torrez explained.

To do that with limited resources, Torrez said his office is focusing on the worst of the worst property crime offenders, to make sure their cases don't fall through the cracks or end up in sweet plea deals.

The worst of the worst come from a list provided by APD detectives.

More than a dozen top property crime offenders who've all amassed lengthy criminal records, some of them in a short amount of time.

Court records show Dan Hoffert, for example, has nearly a dozen felony cases against him in 2016 alone, mostly for breaking into cars or stealing them.

But many of those charges were dismissed by the prosecutor before Torrez came into office in January.

"We have a substantial backlog of referred felony cases. At last count there was nearly 8,000," Torrez explained.

"We've got 100 attorneys, we screen about 25,000 cases a year in addition to that backlog of 8,000," Torrez added.

More than 5,000 of those backlogged cases, Torrez said, fall under property and drug crimes.

But the responsibility of building stronger cases and following through for convictions, Chief Eden admits, also falls on his officers.

"We would generate a report on an auto theft, and it may have been sent to the auto theft detectives with some follow-up, but maybe not enough," Chief Eden explained. "So now what we've done is we've taken that to bring everybody together."

Since Torrez took office, Chief Eden said there's been a presence from the District Attorney's Office each week at APD's crime analysis meetings.

During those crime analysis meetings, APD detectives, members from the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office, the Albuquerque Fire Department and the FBI now share information to build stronger cases against repeat offenders.

"It just makes good sense to go after the person who's committing all these crimes, rather than looking at them as individual cases," said Chief Eden.

"The whole purpose of impact prosecution is to take those people who are driving a disproportionate amount of the crime and get them out of this community," Torrez said.

Eden said the department is already seeing results.

One example of this new strategy is in Dan Hoffert's case. After months of court cases going nowhere, Hoffert was finally sentenced just this month to 10 years in prison for crimes including burglary and stealing cars.

In more than one encounter with him, police found Hoffert kept a handful of shaved keys used to steal cars.

Also on the list of top troublemakers, Henry Sarracino and Gilbert Anderson were each recently sentenced to four years for property crimes.

Eric Arellano and Laila Logan will serve three years.

Jerome Butler faces up to 11.5 years for property crimes and being a felon with a gun. He's scheduled for sentencing in court next month.

Longer prison sentences, police argue, can mean a break in burglaries for Albuquerque citizens, plus time for the criminals to get clean.

Chief Eden said seeing these results in court has boosted morale among the department.

"I firmly believe now that we have this process started, the judges can make a better-informed decision because we're looking at the person and not a single incident," Eden explained.

Although his office can't prosecute every case at once, Torrez vows he'll start at the top and work his way down. Keeping career criminals off the streets is a start.

"People deserve to live in a community where they can be safe, their property can be safe, and they can count on the justice system to you know, hold folks accountable," said Torrez.

APD said there may be more federal sentencing in some of these cases. That means federal prison time, which in most cases will be longer than state sentences.


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