Auto theft is on the rise in Albuquerque, resulting in thousands of victims in recent years, many of whom are taking on an active role to combat the issue by utilizing social media to spread information on stolen vehicles and seek help from the online community.
Albuquerque nearly tops the chart for being the worst city in the country for auto theft, closely following Modesto, California, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
An Information of Public Records request revealed that 7,351 cases of auto theft were reported in 2016, a 62 percent increase from when the trend began in 2012.
The Albuquerque Police Department’s 2015 annual report indicates that an auto theft occurs every hour and 45 minutes.
is one of the many Facebook pages dedicated to combating auto theft in Albuquerque. It is currently the largest with over 10,000 members.
Alison Glenna created the page because she was “fed up with criminals getting away with taking things they do not own, using them, abusing them and walking away without punishment.”
The page is frequently updated with posts from recent auto theft victims describing their respective vehicles and pleading to members to be on the lookout.
Other posts come from concerned citizens who post photos of cars with stripped license plates or cars abandoned in peculiar locations, asking members if they recognize the vehicle.
APD often finds vehicles that were reported on the page, prompting the owner to post a message thanking the group’s vigilant members who often provide advice to recent victims.
Auto theft victim takes a stand
On a fateful December morning, Marcie Guerrero became one of the thousands of victims of auto theft in Albuquerque. The incident produced a citizen dedicated to confronting the issue in city and state government.
Guerrero was on her way to breakfast when she discovered someone stole her truck from outside her friend’s home in northeast Albuquerque.
Guerrero said she was upset and “grasping at straws for answers or routes to take.”
Two months prior, she learned about ABQ Alert when her son’s car was stolen, and a post on the Facebook page notified a friend who discovered the vehicle abandoned on the side of a road.
After Guerrero called the police, she immediately informed her friends on social media and submitted a post to ABQ Alert.
Even though social media did not assist in the recovery of her vehicle, Guerrero, like many New Mexicans, was perplexed by the issue.
She created a petition, asking Albuquerque officials to enact harsher penalties and increase auto theft investigations.
Guerrero shared the petition on social media and received over 900 online signatures.
“(The petition) shows the grievances of hard working citizens,” Guerrero said, adding that a stolen vehicle is financially detrimental to most families.
Her efforts did not go unnoticed. Eddy Aragon, a local radio talk show host and mayoral candidate, invited Guerrero onto his program. Himself of a victim of having his vehicle stolen, and at gunpoint, Aragon has promised to combat the issue if elected mayor.
Aragon joined Guerrero at an Albuquerque City Council meeting in February to provide preliminary exposure to their cause.
Mark Torres, a special agent for New Mexico’s Insurance Fraud Bureau, also noticed the online petition.
Torres told Guerrero that the criminal justice system is lenient on repeat offenders, encouraging her to lobby for House Bill 269 (New Mexico Auto Theft Authority) — a bipartisan bill that would expand the bureau’s power to conduct statewide auto theft investigations and prosecutions.
The bill, which never made it out of committee, aimed to “get more cops on the street, and more prosecutors to help the DA deal with criminal cases.”
The bill was sponsored by New Mexico Representatives Bill Rehm, R-NM, Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-NM, and Patricio Ruiloba, D-NM.
Guerrero mentioned that social media has increased exposure to her cause, adding that social media groups like ABQ Alert are useful tools to help the fight against auto theft in Albuquerque.
Andres Del Aguila is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Andres_DA95. Alissiea Hernandez is a student in the UNM Communication and Journalism Department.