Metropolitan Court judges, local court and law enforcement officials introduced alternative sentencing for auto theft suspects.

“We are painfully aware that Albuquerque has unfortunately led the nation in the auto theft category for some time,” Metro Court Judge Edward Benavidez said Wednesday.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau this summer reported that the Duke City had nearly 10,000 car thefts in 2017. 

Metro Court judges, along with District Attorney Raul Torrez, the sheriff’s office and the Albuquerque Police Department, announced a collaborative effort to try to stop repeat offenders with a new, 15-month drug rehab program called STOP.

“[We] developed a referral system that allows defendants to take advantage of entering into a rehabilitation program that can help them overcome their drug addictions that fuel this type of criminal activity,” Benavidez explained.

Benavidez said often times property crime, like auto theft, is fueled by drug addiction.

It’s similar to the DWI Recovery Court in that it requires reporting to probation; random drug and alcohol testing; face-to-face meetings with the program judges; intensive outpatient treatment; weekly group therapy; supplemental group therapy; among others.

“Within 14 or 15 months, we’re going to make them productive citizens again. And if not, we still have that hammer,” Metro Court Judge Kenny Montoya said. “There’s two years of probation we’re looking at right now, but that two years could turn into custody.”

The program is paid for from Metro Court’s general fund and federal grants awarded to the court to assist with its DWI Recovery Court.

“It’s roughly $18 a day when you break it down individually with the federal funding that we get versus $120 a day to incarcerate somebody,” Benavidez said.

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales said Bernalillo County’s current tough-on-crime approach isn’t working, so he’s hopeful about STOP.

“This is an alternative to incarceration,” Gonzales explained. “Nationwide, this has about a 75 percent chance of success. So we need to look at different options. Obviously, what we’ve done and looked at in the past is not working.”

The program can accommodate a maximum of 30 participants at a time.

It is voluntary and participants cannot have a history of violent felony charges.