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Editorial: City, state, UNM, DA partner in war on gun crime

“Violent crime in Albuquerque is a scourge, and we will attack the roots of that scourge with targeted deployments of manpower and resources.”

– Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Yes, Albuquerque has a serious crime problem. In case you had doubts, consider these recent headlines:

“114 people shot in 112 days”

“UNM athlete killed outside Nob Hill club”

“Feds to get mail carrier killing case”

“Mobbing teen, 2 others charged in shooting”

And you can add to the list “Councilors push $1.5 million Central Ave. investment” – an innocent-sounding headline on a story in which business owners on Central Avenue, the venerable Route 66 of Americana lore, plead for help in stopping what they described as “endless incidents” of criminal activity, ranging from violent crime to break-ins to vandalism.

“We’ve weathered many economic cycles,” said Flying Star Cafe owner Jean Bernstein, “but never have I seen the district and the corridor in sadder shape.”

It’s a depressing litany – one Mayor Tim Keller, UNM President Garnett Stokes, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and DA Raúl Torrez tackled head-on Friday by announcing an unprecedented collaboration that will include:

• Increased city, university and State Police presence, especially in the Nob Hill/UNM area.

• Amplified use of data to track gun crimes.

• Intensified enforcement on parole, liquor and code violations.

• Embedded assistant district attorneys in the police department to aid prosecutions.

On Friday, the governor said “New Mexico residents must be free to have every expectation of safety in their homes and communities. It’s our duty as a state to take every action we possibly can to realize that freedom.” She’s right.

APD Chief Mike Geier noted “the tragic murder of (UNM baseball player) Jackson Weller is another reminder that we are in this for the long haul. I appreciate the partnerships that are being announced today. This is a force multiplier for us, as we continue to hire more officers and rebuild our specialty units.”

And the mayor pointed out that a suspect in the Weller shooting “was recently released from jail on his own recognizance for a felony firearms case in February. … Unfortunately, this individual was back on the streets.”

And he shouldn’t have been.

One of the most important points Torrez makes in his “Ceasefire ABQ” program is that a relatively small group of gang/group-affiliated younger men – numbering in the hundreds rather than thousands – is responsible for a significant percentage of gun crime here. If law enforcement and prosecutors can take them out of circulation with tough and swift action, coupled with social service efforts to get their pals headed in a different direction, we can make substantial inroads into violent crime. It has been done elsewhere.

Torrez wants to engage area law enforcement agencies in an ongoing analysis of gun crime via a collective shooting scorecard that tracks every shooting with any type of injury and identifies likely motives. It would examine victims and backgrounds to identify group/gang violence as a reason for the shooting or retaliation and share information with appropriate partners to devise more specific strategies to reduce violent crime.

That would include finding where juveniles like the teen accused of gunning down a postal worker who tried to be a good Samaritan got his weapon, or where 18-year-old Enrique Palomino of “mobbing” death fame got the weapons used in the shooting of a homeless man during a robbery. We need to aggressively prosecute those who put guns into the hands of teenagers.

The mother of one of the teens arrested in that shooting told police the three boys “all carry guns” and that her son is a “wanna-be” gangster who “loves” guns and “thinks it’s cool.” They might pander to friends by mugging with guns on social media, but they probably won’t think real jail time is cool.

That goes to a final point of Torrez and the mayor. To make the necessary impact, those who would commit gun crimes need to know justice will be swift and certain, that they run a real risk of spending time behind bars while awaiting trial. That’s how you help some consider a different path.

But Torrez says that, of 2,402 motions filed by his office in Second Judicial District Court for preventative detention pending trial, 53% were denied. Of the denied motions, 37% of the defendants had used a gun or deadly weapon in their alleged offense – yet were turned back on the streets under some form of supervision. (Palomino was on supervised probation at the time of his latest charges.)

And among the denied motions, Torrez said, about 14% were charged with new crimes using a gun or deadly weapon.

Judges can and should consider the danger a suspect poses – and use of a gun clearly poses a danger.

So Albuquerque might have most of the collaboration needed to fight its crime scourge – but while tough enforcement and targeted services are essential, so is a more judicious use of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.

It’s way past time for a cease-fire.

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.