ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – He’s been caught again and again in stolen vehicles running from police, and eventually admitting he has a drug problem. So what will it take to stop this cycle of crime that’s fueled by drugs and evolved with technology?

KRQE Investigates followed the case of one of the Albuquerque Police Department’s top 25 auto theft offenders, Bryan Dennie. He’s had at least five encounters with police so far this year.

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There’s a reason steering wheel clubs are a common sight in Albuquerque; a sign to potential thieves to not even try. Car theft, often a crime of opportunity, is still a common problem.

“The theft of cars has evolved due to technology change,” explained APD Commander Aaron Jones, who heads up the Auto Theft Unit under the Investigative Services Division. “In the past, you couldn’t just go to some sort of social media site and get, you know, the directions on how to steal a vehicle. And so now it’s it’s at our youth’s fingertips.”

What’s also evolved, according to Commander Jones, is law enforcement’s effort to stop car theft. “There was a very concerted effort that the Chief had essentially started and put us on a task to partner with other agencies and then come up with inventive ways to reduce auto theft,” said Jones.

Six years ago, Albuquerque saw the height of auto theft in a city that topped the nationwide list of hot spots. Since then, APD said the department has ramped up its bait car program, and increased manpower by partnering with the New Mexico State Police.

Jones said within APD, “All personnel, there’s probably 12 plus the Sergeant,” in the auto theft unit. He said the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance is also prosecuting some cases related to car theft.

APD statistics from January to July show auto theft is down 14 percent from last year. But there’s one man detectives have run into again and again. Bryan Dennie is considered one of APD’s top 25 auto theft offenders.

Dennie’s record includes multiple charges of “receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle,” a felony. Police reports show he’s been found driving in or passed out inside stolen cars, so much so, that detectives know him well.

(The image shows APD officer knocking on the window of the stolen car while Dennie is asleep inside. Courtesy Albuquerque Police Department.)

“There is damage to the ignition, and the male subject is still down and out in the car,” an officer called over the radio during an encounter with Dennie last September.

During that September encounter, an officer found Dennie passed out inside a stolen Hyundai. The officer’s loud knocks and commands over the intercom weren’t enough to wake Dennie. “You’re inside a stolen motor vehicle,” an officer is heard on lapel video shouting commands over the loudspeaker. “I need you to exit through the driver’s side door.”

When all else fails, APD officers broke the window to get Dennie out of the stolen Hyundai. “If you fight or flee, force is going to be used against you,” an officer tells Dennie as he comes to.

“You’re under arrest for being in a stolen vehicle,” an officer told Dennie. Police said he admitted to using meth and found a BB gun in the car. “How much did you take, bud?” An officer asked Dennie, who appears to have trouble keeping his eyes open.

An escalating behavior

“What we see with Mr. Dennie is that there is a large number of auto theft-related crimes, and then eventually it goes to a place where he’s armed, running from the police and with narcotics,” explained Commander Jones. “So he’s probably not in the right state of mind. And the risk level to everybody involved…the risk level goes way high.”

Dennie’s had at least five encounters with police just this year. A report from March states he lied about his identity when the driver he was with got pulled over.

In June, an auto theft detective noticed Dennie driving a stolen Kia. Police followed him to a southeast Albuquerque apartment complex where detectives said Dennie “immediately ran from officers” and hid inside an apartment. Police eventually left, citing in a report that Dennie “refused to come out.”

In July, Dennie was spotted by detectives who knew he had an active warrant. That time he was arrested, reportedly with a gun and Fentanyl pills.

APD announced Dennie’s arrest as part of a warrant roundup. However, by the time the press release was sent out, Dennie was back on the streets.

When asked if that was frustrating to hear, Commander Jones replied, “100 percent, yes. Because who’s the victim in this and who continues to be the victim in this? And that’s the citizens of Albuquerque that I swore under oath to protect. And so when that person goes back out, that is a frustrating situation.”

When Dennie was released in July, another warrant was issued when Dennie failed to report to pretrial services.

Then in August, an auto theft detective spotted Dennie driving in a stolen Hyundai. The detective followed him to San Pedro and Gibson where police said they lost him in traffic that day.

Two weeks later, detectives spotted a stolen Kia on the road, and according to a criminal complaint, “recognized the driver as known auto theft offender Bryan Dennie.” Police and Air Support watched Dennie get out of the stolen car and go into an apartment.

The SWAT team was called in and arrested Dennie on August 30. Lapel video from that arrest shows an officer telling Dennie, “You have a better one. I hope I don’t see you again.”

Drugs likely a driving force

“Good luck to you, honestly,” the officer added. “Thank you, appreciate that,” Dennie replied.

It’s another arrest related to car theft, but Dennie and his arresting officer acknowledged a driving force. “F* drugs, dude,” said Dennie. “We’ll get this over with,” the officer said.

“Drugs are no good,” Dennie went on. “Maybe going inside is better for you for a little bit, get you off this s***,” said the officer.

(Image of Bryan Dennie in the back of APD patrol car during an August arrest. Courtesy of Albuquerque Police Department.)

KRQE asked Commander Jones where he believes the best place for someone like Bryan Dennie is. “I think that there’s probably a large number of people that would say that that person needs to spend time in jail for the crimes that they’ve committed,” said Jones.

“But while he’s in jail, he needs to receive treatment for the underlying issue, which is his drug addiction,” Jones added. “I realize that some people have addiction, and if we don’t address the addiction, we’re not going to address the result of that and the crime that are being committed.”

Last month, Bernalillo District Court Judge Britt Baca-Miller agreed to keep Dennie in jail for now, granting the state’s motion for preventative detention. Judge Baca-Miller noted Dennie being caught with a gun is more serious than his prior charges that the courts considered “non-violent.”

Photo of gun police say they found on Bryan Dennie during a July arrest.

“I think that in this circumstance, I think that that’s escalated to such an extent that that would endanger the community if I were to release him right now,” said Judge Baca-Miller. Referring to his most recent arrest, Baca-Miller said, “This is not necessarily a crime of violence, but I think that Mr. Dennie has a number of charges he’s been arrested for just in the last year alone that have increased as far as danger goes.”

Commander Jones said he’s noticed a concerted effort from District Attorney Sam Bregman’s office to win more preventative detention motions and keep people behind bars. “I think that they’ve made strides,” said Jones. “I’ve witnessed it.”

What happens next though, isn’t just up to the system. “My hope for Bryan Dennie is that he comes to a place where he realizes that this is not the life that he wants to live, and that the path that he’s on is a dangerous path,” said Commander Jones.

“Which will either end up with him overdosing on drugs or something worse happening where he commits a crime that’s going to land him in prison for the rest of his life,” Jones added.

Attorneys General across 17 states including New Mexico have asked for a recall of Kias and Hyundai models after a social media trend spurred even more thefts of those vehicles. Both are models Bryan Dennie has been caught in.