Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
After five sessions convening law enforcement, court officials, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and representatives from higher education and rehab facilities, the city has unveiled 40 items it says will “turn the tide on crime in the region.”
“I will tell you to stand up here as a collective community, in our respective offices, and admit our challenges, admit our failures, but also commit to doing more going forward, that is – I think – what all of us expect from our leaders,” Mayor Tim Keller said at a late morning news conference at the Albuquerque Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center. “I want to thank everyone for being part of that because it is not easy. It’s easy to blame someone else, it’s easy to point fingers, it’s easy to make excuses. And that is what you will not see in this effort going forward.”
The administration launched the Metro Crime Initiative in mid-July in a bid to identify ways to fix what it called a broken criminal justice system. The five sessions, each about two hours and livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel, addressed opportunities for early intervention, detention, diversion and hearings, resources for victims’ advocates and offender reentry, and career pipelines.
The resulting to-do list includes: “invest in mobile speed enforcement to free up officers while combating the scourge of dangerous driving”; “create a task force to examine officer retention and lateral recruitment programs for all police agencies in New Mexico”; “create restorative justice programs in schools”; “fund indigent copays for drug testing for pre-prosecution diversion programs”; and many more items.
The last item came out of conversations with both the District Attorney’s Office and the Law Offices of the Public Defender.
“We’re covering the cost of drug testing required to participate in the pre-prosecution diversion for those who can’t afford it,” said Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair. “So the cost is not a barrier. And that’s the kind of simple concrete idea that came out of this initiative that we can all commit to definitely funding and moving forward with.”
It also includes such legislative changes as “pass(ing) a law that makes owning, operating or doing business with a ‘chop shop’ a crime” and “pre-trial presumption of dangerousness when an offender uses, brandishes, or is in possession of a firearm during a violent, drug or property crime.”
Notably, while Bernalillo County commissioners and the manager participated in the meetings, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office did not.
Keller said the Sheriff’s Office was invited to every session, but “frankly, they’re the only one in the entire state of New Mexico who never showed or never replied.”
Sheriff Manuel Gonzales, who’s running for mayor, at first said he was not “formally invited.” Then, he said that he was invited, but didn’t have time between his constitutional duties and campaigning, and he thinks it’s all just “smoke and mirrors.”
“So, for them to try to invite me – thinking that I’m going to show up in the middle of these things that to me are more pressing – to try to distract me from ultimately winning this race, I will not fall into that trap,” Gonzales said.
Officials stressed that just because an agency’s logo was included on the handout with the action items, that does not mean it endorsed every one.
After the news conference, Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur said he thought the initiative was “a great forum” that allowed for some “wonderful discussions with the chief of police and with the mayor’s staff.”
However, he said, he strongly disagrees with a number of items regarding the court system and proposed laws. For instance, he said the group didn’t have a chance to discuss pretrial detention in any depth.
“I think that if we detain people pretrial the way that they’re talking about – they want to change the rules about the case management order – I think in the long run that could actually create more crime,” Baur said. “We’ll be holding people in jails prior to trial, possibly for months, and that actually increases recidivism. So, I think this group started some good discussions. But I think of the 40 things here, there’s four or five, I think, that will not help solve crime. They would make it worse.”
He said instead of holding more defendants in jail pending trial, the focus should be on better policing and better prosecution in order to secure convictions for those who are guilty.
“The other thing I think that is really important to talk about is the conditions in the jails and prisons,” Baur said. “If people are going to be held, what are the conditions? And what are they going to be like when they get out? And that’s something I think we didn’t have time to talk about.”