Time to get tough on crime

Recently, Albuquerque reached a regrettable milestone when officers recorded the 50th homicide of the year. In three years, the number of homicides in our city has more than doubled, going from 30 homicides in 2014 to a record 75 homicides in 2017. Now we are on pace to surpass last year’s record total.

The situation around the state is hardly better. Earlier this summer, New Mexico made headlines when sheriff’s deputies raided a Taos compound and arrested five adults after discovering 11 malnourished children living in squalor, a cache of weapons, and the dead body of one child who had been reported kidnapped in Georgia. People across the country were outraged when the state’s justice system botched the cases. Federal authorities eventually had to intervene.

New Mexico is quickly earning a reputation for being the crime capital of the country. Albuquerque leads the nation in auto thefts, and New Mexico has been named the worst state for property crimes. The Taos case has made our judicial system a laughing stock to observers throughout the world.

Meanwhile, some residents have decided they have had enough and are leaving our state to create new lives for themselves and their families elsewhere. Those of us who remain can only wonder how this has happened to the beautiful state we love.

There are many reasons for the state’s exploding crime rates. One undeniable fact is that some criminals have decided to make a business of crime in our state. So far, business for them has been very, very good.

Consider a study released by the Albuquerque Innovation Team (ABQ i-team) last year. According to its review of arrest records, 72 percent of felony arrestees had been through the criminal justice system before, and over 500 of these arrestees had been detained for other felony offenses during the seven previous years. The study showed that 35 percent of the criminals arrested on felony charges had five or more prior arrests. The ABQ i-team determined that 4.4 percent of arrestees were responsible for 36 percent of all felony arrests in seven years leading up to the report.

Law enforcement officials have long warned that the “catch-and-release” judicial approach only encourages criminals to continue their way of life. Sometimes, violent offenders are back on the street after only spending a day or two in jail. For these individuals, the rewards gained from their criminal activity far outweigh the risks of being caught and prosecuted. Many offenders in our state have learned this simple lesson: crime pays in New Mexico.

For the past few years I have worked with a group of lawmakers to change this reality and make New Mexico a less friendly place for criminals. Together, we sponsored bills designed to impose real consequences on the small group of criminals who are committing most of the crimes.

These measures, such as the “three-strikes” bill that would expand the list of felony crimes making a violent repeat offender eligible for a life sentence, have often been met with disdain by our Democrat colleagues. We were accused of having an “all-crime, all-the-time” agenda, and Democrat leaders in the Senate refused to even give some of our bills a hearing.

We made some progress during this past session. The bipartisan crime package passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year will help. I was especially pleased that my proposal to give retention bonuses to New Mexico’s law enforcement officers is now law. But we need to do more.

Although New Mexico is making some headway in reversing a few crime trends in our state, too many violent crimes are still being committed. We’ll never be able to secure real peace until we get serious about enforcing consequences for the minority of criminals responsible for the majority of violent crime in New Mexico.

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