- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The violent crime rate in New Mexico improved slightly in 2014, but it remained significantly higher than the national average, according to FBI statistics. The data also show that Espanola had the highest rate in the state because of a relatively high number of aggravated assaults in the small northern New Mexico city.

Meanwhile, the violent crime rate in Albuquerque - home to almost a quarter of the state’s population - jumped from 775 crimes per 100,000 residents in 2013 to 883 in 2014. The increase came despite a decline in the number of murder and rape cases in the city.

The FBI classifies violent crime as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Statewide, there were roughly 597 violent crimes per 100,000 people - almost two times the national rate.

For Albuquerque, the FBI statistics released this week point to a steady increase in violent crime in recent years that city officials attribute in large part to repeat offenders.

“It’s a small number of people out there doing violent things,” Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said. He estimated a significant number of crimes in the city are committed by repeat offenders, though he did not cite specific statistics.

Mayor Richard Berry said city and local law enforcement leaders need to work with lawmakers and corrections officials to address factors that may be contributing to crime statewide, such as a bail bond system that some have described as broken.

The mayor also is pushing for the state to allow retired police officers who collect pensions to return to law enforcement jobs and collect a salary, saying the change in state law is critical to restoring police staffing in the state and boosting public safety.

Opponents have argued that state pension funds are already strained.

In Espanola, the police department had 22 officers in 2014 for a city of 10,000, where all but 42 of the city’s 265 violent crimes were classified as aggravated assault. There were no murder or nonnegligent manslaughter cases in the rural community in 2014.

The Espanola Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Property crimes, which include burglary, larceny and motor-vehicle theft, also went down in New Mexico in 2014. Taos, a top vacation destination, had the highest rate of property crime in the state, according to the federal data.

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