New program gives car thieves the option to go to rehab instead of jail

Nearly 10,000 cars were reported stolen in Albuquerque in 2017. That’s according to a report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Christian Armijo knows all about it.

“I had just bought a car like a week before, and I woke up to get the oils and emissions done, and it was gone,” said Armijo, a car theft victim.

Armijo says police eventually found it.

“It had a backpack with drugs and needles in it and what appeared to be a stolen iPad.”

A month later, Armijo says it was stolen again.

“I felt pretty awful… I felt pretty bad,” said Armijo.

Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court officials say research shows a majority of people who steal cars are addicted to drugs.

“Many of these individuals who are stealing cars, they aren’t stealing them to sell them, they use them as a safe haven to use drugs,” said Armijo.

They’ve developed a rehabilitation program called STOP, or the Substance Abuse and Treatment Option Program, to help them.

It’s a five-phase program that requires people charged with stealing cars to do things like report to probation and do random drug and alcohol tests for a minimum of 15 months.

“It allows the defendants to take advantage of entering into a rehabilitation program that can help them overcome their drug addictions that fuels this type of criminal activity,” said Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Chief Judge Edward L. Benavidez.

Some people in the community who are tired of seeing cars stolen don’t think the program is fair.

In fact, one woman thinks the punishment for stealing cars should be harsher.

“It shows them, it’s discipline and it shows them what they did was wrong, and you don’t do this or else you’ll get punished,” said Mary Hollins, who disagrees with the program.