- Associated Press - Friday, September 29, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - It’s a mayoral race where one candidate got his car stolen, another is facing criticism for working at a law firm that defends police officers, and a news crew reporting on downtown Albuquerque crime saw a thief drive off in its SUV.

Seven candidates are vying to become the next mayor of New Mexico’s largest city amid rising crime and pressures to revamp the Albuquerque Police Department.

All promise to change the policing strategies and immediately fire the police chief who hasn’t said whether he wants to stay on the job after December.

Just a few years ago, city officials embraced the tough, gritty image of Albuquerque portrayed in the two hit AMC shows “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.” Now residents say crime has gotten out of control and is damaging the city’s image.

“Crime is definitely the No. 1 issue,” said Gabriel Sanchez, a University of New Mexico political science professor. “That appears to be on everyone’s mind.”

FBI statistics released this week show violent crime in Albuquerque last year jumped around 16 percent. In 2016, the city had a violent crime rate of 1,112 incidents per 100,000 residents.

While the rate isn’t among the highest in the nation when it comes to cities of similar size and demographics, it is well above average for cities with a population of 250,000 of more. Cities in that category have an average violent crime rate of 711.

Albuquerque also has a property crime rate per 100,000 residents of 6,860 - more than twice the average for cities with a population of 250,000 of more.

Polls show Democrat and current State Auditor Tim Keller is leading the crowded field, with former New Mexico Democratic Party chair Brian Colon and Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis battling for the second spot in the nonpartisan race. If no candidate gets 50 percent, the top two vote-getters will face off in a November runoff.

Throughout the campaign, Keller has repeated his plan to battle crime and aggressively adopt new policies on use of force by police - something the U.S. Department of Justice said Albuquerque needed to reform.

“We have to police our communities differently,” Keller said.

Lewis echoed the concerns and promised to dedicate $15 million for police raises to keep officers from leaving.

Colon vowed to conduct a national search for a new police chief and return to community policing. He also promised not to waver regarding the federal court-ordered reforms.

Colon has faced criticism for working for a law firm that defended officers involved in police shootings.

In June, crime in Albuquerque drew national attention after someone stole a KOB-TV station’s SUV while members of the NBC affiliate gathered footage for a story about crime. The vehicle was later recovered.

During a recent mayoral forum at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Albuquerque businessman and mayoral candidate Ricardo Chaves caused the crowd to gasp when he talked about how crime affected him.

“I had my car stolen out of my garage five months ago,” said Chaves, who ended up dropping out of the race this week and endorsing Lewis.

This year’s race is the first mayoral campaign in 20 years without an incumbent on the ballot.

Turnout for Tuesday’s election is expected to be low.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at https://twitter.com/russcontreras

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