Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Meet “Kelly,” a woman showing signs of mental health issues whose rap sheet includes low-level crimes.
She becomes addicted to drugs and gets arrested for breaking into a home and stealing a car. She subsequently is involved in a drug buy and ends up killing an innocent bystander.
The city will be using this hypothetical case study as it convenes a series of meetings with law enforcement and community partners to address what authorities call a broken criminal justice system.
“I think all of us partners in the criminal justice system are tired and frustrated,” said Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair in a meeting with Journal editors and reporters on Thursday. “At the same time, we’ve all been tired and frustrated long enough that we’re ready to do things a little differently. The thing specifically that I think we’re ready to do differently is that them versus us piece of it. By that what I mean is when something goes wrong, all of us … are very likely to point to some other part of the criminal justice system.”
Chief Policy Adviser Damon Martinez said the Albuquerque Metro Crime Initiative’s five sessions will follow a hypothetical case study of a woman they call “Kelly” and her interactions with the criminal justice system. The sessions – which will be broadcast live on the city’s One Albuquerque YouTube channel – will address opportunities for early intervention, detention, diversion and hearings, resources for victims advocates and offender re-entry, and career pipelines.
“For each session, we will have panelists and experts, and then the sessions will be guided by a facilitator who will prompt the experts to provide commentary on the case study,” Martinez said. “The floor will then be opened up to the panelists for question and answer.”
Participants and co-sponsors include Mayor Tim Keller, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Attorney General Hector Balderas, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur, members of the New Mexico Senate and House of Representatives, Albuquerque City Council members, the Albuquerque Police Department, the New Mexico State Police, the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance, the New Mexico Crime Victims Reparations Commission, the Albuquerque Community Safety Department, representatives from the Metro and District Courts, representatives from Central New Mexico Community College and New Mexico Highlands University, the Serenity Mesa and Endorphin Power substance abuse centers.
The city says the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office was invited to participate. BCSO spokespeople did not respond to questions about whether representatives plan to attend.
APD Chief Harold Medina acknowledged that the department has a history of botched criminal investigations and said it’s working to improve training.
“I’m saying I want to know how we can be better,” Medina said. “I want people to point out and say ‘these are the processes you need to fix for us to have a successful criminal justice program.’ And I want to be able to come back and say ‘this is what we will be working on fixing’… that’s one of the key aspects – everybody being honest and listening to the feedback they get and making the changes they need to make.”
Camille Baca, the Metropolitan Court spokeswoman, said the court welcomes the opportunity “to work alongside longstanding justice partners to evaluate and improve systems in place and actively engage with the community.”
For his part,Baur said he is hopeful the effort “will help address the deep-seated social issues that surface in the criminal justice system” and that he believes the Law Offices of the Public Defender “can bring a unique and important perspective to this conversation.”
The sessions started Friday and will wrap up in September, at which time the city hopes the group will have developed a list of things that they need to do, who’s going to work on them and when they’re going to be done.
Keller said the plan is to take the list to lawmakers so they can all support each other in asking for additional funding.
“Our goal is not a lengthy report,” Keller said. “Our goal is not a study. Our goal is to say ‘OK, here’s a couple of things in each department that we’re going to do that is going to move the needle on fighting crime in our criminal justice system.'”
Several years ago, following the murder of Rio Rancho Police Department officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner, Balderas’ office compiled a report that he said laid out a “holistic” approach to address how systemic gaps in intervention and prevention led Benner’s killer to be out of jail.
“The recommendations went nowhere …,” Balderas said. “But I think what I’m going to convey – and I appreciate the mayor’s leadership on this – is that in addition to that transformational conversation, there should be specific recommendations. Where we have failed in the past, is not independent recommendations, we do not have an interdependent strategy for accountability as it relates to prevention, and harm reduction.”
Over the past couple of years, the Keller administration has unveiled other initiatives meant to combat crime that involve early intervention and partnership with other agencies.
The Violence Intervention Program, which was introduced in late 2019, involves a team visiting people impacted by gun violence in order to connect them with resources or warn them that they could face serious legal consequences or get hurt or killed if they continue to engage in violence. The program also includes a list of “Metro 15” offenders compiled by APD, the 2nd Judicial District Attorney and the Office of Superintendent of Insurance.
Nair said those previous initiatives worked and because of that, the administration has some optimism that “taking those strategies to the larger system will be productive.”
“Those were all sort of baby steps towards what we’re hoping is taking that inter-agency approach into the larger systemic problems.”