Crime fighters? Politicians should put aside politics and focus on violent criminals - Albuquerque Journal

Crime fighters? Politicians should put aside politics and focus on violent criminals

Perhaps it’s election season dynamics. Perhaps the problem has gotten so big, so out of control and so frightening it can no longer be ignored.

Whatever the reason(s), we are seeing what appears to be a concerted push on the need to address violent crime in New Mexico from both Republicans and high-ranking Democrats, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.

Recent headlines are just too shocking to ignore.

• Albuquerque has already passed its record number of homicides in a year of 81 in 2019 – and it’s only late August.

• An FBI agent was shot in the vest after helping serve a warrant on a “stash house” in the Southeast Albuquerque. Officers returned fire, killing a purported prominent gang leader who had outstanding warrants involving drugs, guns and prostitution.

• A shootout at a popular Albuquerque sports bar left one dead, three wounded.

• APD officers exchanged gunfire with a Santa Fe man who had stolen a “bait” car, wounding him. No officers were injured.

• A Washington Middle School student was shot and killed by another student who had taken his father’s gun to school – pointing out the need for firearm safety legislation.

• Four Albuquerque police officers were wounded, one critically, in a shootout after responding to an armed robbery call in broad daylight in the Northeast Heights. The gunman has a felony record from California and was wounded in the exchange of 30 to 40 gunshots. “It is incredibly frustrating that over the course of the past few weeks we have had four incidents in the metro area where law enforcement was fired upon,” said Police Chief Harold Medina.

• State Police officer Darian Jarrott of Lordsburg was shot and killed in cold blood during a traffic stop by a suspected methamphetamine trafficker in southern New Mexico in February.

Republican lawmakers have seen many of their efforts to put tougher laws on the books – from habitual felony offender consideration to use of unlawful weapons while trafficking – hit a political brick wall in Santa Fe, where Democrats hold solid majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

But Democrats are now sounding the alarm as well.

Even before the latest spate of violence in Albuquerque, Keller had convened meetings of criminal justice system stakeholders to see if they can come to an agreement on changes to combat violent crime. Consensus among cops, prosecutors and defense lawyers would be a significant challenge. But it has brought to light two key points: The mayor, who is seeking reelection, Medina and Attorney General Hector Balderas all concur the current system is “broken.” And Medina points out his officers keep arresting the same violent offenders over and over again.

The governor, also seeking reelection, wants state funding to hire 1,000 new officers statewide over 10 years and has dispatched a crime-fighting surge of State Police officers to Albuquerque for the second time.

And in another noteworthy development, she says she supports a “rebuttable presumption” in pretrial detention cases for people accused of violent crimes. In other words, for certain cases the accused would have to prove his or her release would NOT pose a threat to community safety, which she said “can be a wedge in the revolving door of repeat violent offenses that have characterized the worst aspects of the crime our state continues to experience.”

So will this deliver something real? Or as Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, contends, is it “political grandstanding and hypocrisy?”

“These Democrats, who slander law enforcement and scoff at our crime bills, are now asking State Police officers to again put themselves in harm’s way and crush the criminal insurrection taking place under their watch,” he said.

Indeed, with the governor’s support, Democratic lawmakers have made it easier to sue police and expunge criminal records of those arrested for and/or convicted of several nonviolent crimes. And they have killed 10 GOP crime measures in the last two years – all aimed at violent criminals.

The governor says Democrats in the Legislature have prioritized rehabilitation and reform within the criminal justice system – a laudable goal as long as it doesn’t allow repeat violent criminals to remain on the streets. In a statement from her office, a spokeswoman for the governor wrote fundamental changes are required including the “willpower” of law enforcement, prosecutors and judges to crack down on violent offenders and drug traffickers.

So this would be a good time for lawmakers to turn their attention to getting violent criminals off the streets – even if that means progressives, prosecutors and Republicans all work together.

Republicans have called for a special session on crime. It doesn’t appear the governor will do that – although it is an idea worth considering given immense public interest. But whether it’s in a special session or next year’s 30-day session where she largely controls the agenda, Lujan Grisham should flex her political muscle to ensure meaningful changes that make life safer for residents and less so for violent criminals.

Lujan Grisham summed things up in announcing the assignment of State Police to target those who “flagrantly perpetrate” violent crime in Albuquerque. “Repeat violent offenders,” she said, “have no business on our streets, terrorizing workers and families simply trying to live their lives in peace.”

Surely, Democrats and Republicans can come together around that. If they can’t, voters need to show them the door.

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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