Editorial: Governor, thank you for targeting the 1,600 violent fugitives in NM

Journal readers learned this week that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered the creation of a special law enforcement unit to round up hundreds of violent fugitives across New Mexico who have not shown up for court hearings or are wanted on bench warrants.

And a few minutes after reading this, many New Mexicans likely breathed a sigh of relief, and quietly uttered “about time” and “thank you.”

It’s undoubtedly the same reaction many had after the governor sent 50 State Police officers from across New Mexico to Southeast Albuquerque earlier this year after a rash of violent crime that included the fatal shooting of a 23-year-old University of New Mexico baseball player. New Mexico had the second-highest violent crime rate and highest property crime rate in the nation last year, according to federal statistics. While the national crime rate in 2018 was around 369 violent crimes and 2,200 property crimes per 100,000 residents, New Mexico clocked in with a whopping 857 violent crimes and 3,420 property crimes per 100,000 residents, according to the Associated Press.

So, once again, thank you, governor, for following through with what you said in your January State of the State address, that “We will be tough on the worst criminals, smart about investments and priorities, and never stop fighting to make our communities safe.”

The new Fugitive Apprehension Unit, to comprise State Police officers and Corrections Department staff, will work with local law enforcement to arrest people with outstanding bench warrants in connection with violent crime charges. As the Journal’s Dan Boyd wrote Wednesday, there are more than 1,600 outstanding warrants in the state in connection with cases involving violent crime.

It’s a mind-boggling, and unacceptable, number.

Lujan Grisham is a committed proponent of progressive philosophies, like community policing, which often involve getting police on the ground in high-crime areas to build trust with neighborhoods and gain valuable tactical information.

But as a University of New Mexico Law School graduate, the governor also recognizes all too well that failing to pursue and capture fugitives undermines the entire criminal justice system. All crime has an impact, but every time a wanted fugitive commits a new crime, it’s a black eye for law enforcement and indicates the broader system is failing.

There’s good reason to believe Lujan Grisham’s plan will have a positive effect. After all, it worked well the last time around. When then-Gov. Susana Martinez ordered a similar fugitive apprehension operation in 2014, more than 2,600 ex-convicts accused of parole or probation violations were arrested.

Lujan Grisham’s plan wisely loops in corrections officials with state and local law enforcement, which should mean there’s a good mix of experience and knowledge of the potential dangers various fugitives present as operations are planned.

But more than just another bad-guy and bad-gal roundup, this operation should provide lessons learned and insights, understandings and ideas for creating a more effective system of tracking fugitive parolees and probationers.

It’s a wise use of resources and the governor deserves a hearty thanks for putting her constituents’ safety first.

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.

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