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Panel begins search for steps to reduce crime

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Businesses considering a move to New Mexico’s largest city used to ask first about the schools.

Now they want to know about crime and public safety, says Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

She and other community leaders met in Downtown Albuquerque for the first time Thursday as part of a task force established by the Legislature to combat a spike in the city’s crime rate and to more broadly address problems in the criminal justice system throughout New Mexico.

The meeting started just hours after police responded to a shooting on West Central – the city’s seventh homicide in 13 days.

“We have to find a more intelligent way to fight crime,” Cole said Thursday as her organization served as host of the meeting.

Retired state Supreme Court Justice Edward Chávez led the three-hour meeting and asked the participants to take an analytical, collaborative approach. Their recommendations are due Oct. 15.

State Rep. Daymon Ely, a Corrales Democrat who co-sponsored legislation establishing the group, said he hopes the members will develop bipartisan proposals that can be introduced in the next legislative session.

“I think it’s a really good start,” he said of the meeting. “Everyone’s keeping an open mind.”

Nonpartisan legislative analysts briefed the group on crime trends in Albuquerque. The city’s crime rate has been climbing since 2010, they said, even as the national rate has fallen.

There are also parts of the state – Belen, Taos, Gallup and Española – with even higher crime rates than Albuquerque.

 District Attorney Raúl Torrez listens Thursday as a newly convened task force discusses New Mexico's high crime rate

District Attorney Raúl Torrez listens Thursday as a newly convened task force discusses New Mexico’s high crime rate. The meeting was held at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce office Downtown. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The analysts, Charles Sallee and Jon Courtney, also said Albuquerque’s increase in crime outpaced that of any of the nation’s 30 largest cities over a recent three-year period. Albuquerque is the 32nd-largest city.

They also shared findings from national research about what works to deter crime.

“The swiftness and certainty of being caught is a vastly more powerful deterrent,” their report said, “than the punishment.”

The analysts also had a touch of good news: Crime in Albuquerque was down in January this year, compared with the same month in 2017. A drop in auto thefts is believed to be one factor.

Thursday’s committee meeting included representatives from the 2nd Judicial District Court, the Attorney General’s Office, the Fraternal Order of Police and a variety of state agencies, including the Corrections and Children, Youth and Families departments.

No one from Albuquerque city government or APD is a member of the committee, though there’s a representative from the state Municipal League. About two dozen people attended the meeting altogether.

Increasing the number of police officers, staffers to monitor defendants on probation, and prosecutors was one suggestion to address the problem. Better reintegration and other services for people leaving jail and prison also came up.

The group also discussed the relationship between the economy and crime, as Cole shared her experience speaking to representatives of companies considering a move to Albuquerque and their concern about safety.

Cole said the chamber has started to field more questions about crime over the last two years. Safety concerns, she said, are interfering with efforts to grow the economy.

“Time and time again,” Cole said, “we have had to answer the question, ‘What are you doing about education?’ But the first one now: ‘Is Albuquerque really a safe place? Can we bring our employees there, and will they be safe?’ ”

Participants in Thursday’s meeting agreed to return with data from their organizations to help analyze recommendations.

“We want to make our decisions based on facts, not feelings, not emotions,” said Grace Philips, general counsel for the New Mexico Association of Counties.

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