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District Attorney taking steps to battle violence

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — District Attorney Raúl Torrez met with public safety officials from city, state and federal agencies Tuesday to begin an effort for the city to join a national network of cities that fight street crime and gun violence.

Torrez said the project is one of several steps he’s taking to try to fight gun crime in Albuquerque. Another step, he said, is to restructure his office so there’s a unit focused specifically on prosecuting gun crimes.

Albuquerque in 2017 had its highest-ever number of homicides with 75, and there have already been 29 homicides this year.

“We’re well ahead of the record-setting pace for homicides that we had last year,” Torrez said. “We have to do something different.”

He’s pitching that the city bring together the needed groups so Albuquerque could join a list of about 35 other cities who are in the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College. One of the network’s focuses is Group Violence Intervention, or GVI.

That type of intervention means bringing together respected community leaders, social services providers and law enforcement who will hold an intervention of sorts with people believed to be part of criminal groups, Torrez said. That collection of people then offer services and support to those who are willing to change their ways, according to the network’s website.

“If (they) want to put the gun down, there are other people at the table that can make that happen,” Torrez said.

If the city gets accepted, Torrez said, a team of researchers then study the city’s violent crimes dating back five years and try to connect particular groups of people who are responsible for most of the city’s violent crime.

The GVI approach to law enforcement was launched in Boston in 1990s and has reportedly helped reduce crime in cities around the country, Torrez said.

In addition to trying to take that approach to fighting crime, Torrez said he’s restructuring his office to focus on targeting people who use guns illegally.

He said four experienced prosecutors will be part of a new unit that focuses specifically on gun crime. Eventually, Torrez said they’ll all be cross-commissioned and can, if the case is accepted by federal law enforcement, try certain cases in federal court, which often can lead to longer prison sentences than state court.

Deputy District Attorney Thomas Outler, who will be part of that team, said carjacking, felon in possession of a firearm, and robberies that interfere with interstate commerce are the most common crimes that the group will focus on.