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Editorial: Bleeding slows; NM must keep up pressure on crime

For the first time in a long time, crime is on a downward trajectory in New Mexico’s largest city.

And it’s down, in part, because Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez and the Albuquerque Police Department’s new leadership have determined the good guys need to work smarter, not just harder, when it comes to fighting crime. APD has doubled down on constitutional community policing, and Torrez has embraced the data analytics being run under former Mayor Richard Berry that show a core group of individuals have been responsible for much of the mayhem in Albuquerque. The 2018 Legislature appropriated a generous, albeit one-time, $4.3 million from its $6.3 billion state budget spending plan to advance Torrez’s efforts. Torrez then re-deployed his still limited forces to charge and prosecute the so-called worst of the worst with the intent of getting the most bang for every taxpayer buck. And he began building his own data-crunching team to capitalize on the positive momentum.

Just months later, the number of crimes reported is down by around 1,000 a month; automobile burglary and robberies are down 31 percent for the first half of 2018 compared to the first half of 2017; auto theft and commercial burglaries are down 16 percent compared to the same time period. Compare that to the 26 percent increase in violent and property crime from 2014-’16. And while homicides remain up – 18 percent in the first half of 2018 compared with ’17 – the metro area appears to be becoming a safer place.

And that needs to continue.

In addition to the data-driven approach that focuses on repeat and multiple offenders, Torrez’s office is following through on those cases and sending a loud-and-clear message that crime doesn’t pay. His office found the same 111 people had committed about 800 felonies; 76 percent have been sentenced or are pending sentencing and the remainder are still being prosecuted. And now his prosecutors start cases in court in fewer than 20 days (in 2015-’16 it would take longer than 100 days).

New specialty court should help

This week Torrez joined Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Chief Judge Edward Benavidez to launch the STOP program – Substance Abuse and Treatment Option Program – for car thieves. Like Metro’s other specialty courts, the goal is to get offenders who are amenable to treatment working to be productive members of society before crime becomes a way of life and before they turn violent.

There are those who will criticize STOP because it allows car thieves to avoid a felony conviction and jail or prison. Those critics need to realize these carefully screened defendants must get at least 15 months of substance abuse treatment, and should they violate probation they will do more time behind bars than had they been convicted of a felony. Benavidez explains “they are either going to get treatment and get rehabilitated or they are going to pay the price.”

Metro’s specialty courts have impressively low recidivism rates; the STOP court promises to add to that while reducing the metro area’s crisis-level auto-theft problem.

So should grant for area plagued by crime

Torrez also announced a $1 million Bureau of Justice Assistance grant for a new Community Based Crime Reduction program for the city’s International District – roughly from Lomas to Gibson and Carlisle to Eubank.

The effort brings law enforcement, government, researchers, substance abuse providers and community groups together via a leadership council, and adds a new social worker liaison between residents and programs and agencies, and a community prosecutor working out of the Albuquerque police Southeast Substation.

The front-line effort promises to get those with the most knowledge of the neighborhood engaged in making it a safer place to live and visit. That’s essential, since data analytics found that while just 6.7 percent of people in the city live in the area, it was home to 27 percent of the city’s murders and 37 percent of the nonfatal shootings in a three-year period.

All Albuquerque residents deserve better, and the efforts of many to tackle crime in a smart as well as heartfelt way are bearing early fruit. It is essential the 2019 Legislature takes note, renews its additional funding of Torrez’s office, as well as adequately invests in programs that are delivering results.

Because everyone wants New Mexico to be known for the many positive things it has to offer, not its crime.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.