Violent crime in the metro area and across America has soared during the pandemic, but in Albuquerque we know it simply cannot be treated as an outlier. Our criminal justice system is broken, and we must reach much further to change the way our region addresses crime. For too long, violence has brought tragedy to the doorstep of families in our community as violent criminals cycle in and out of jail. At the same time, the systems that address the most common root causes of crime, like behavioral health, are treated like an afterthought. Today, our criminal justice system does not have the capacity to keep dangerous offenders behind bars or get help to those in need.
At the start of this summer, I convened the Albuquerque Metro Crime Initiative (MCI) to bring together key decision-makers in our criminal justice system. Our goal was to build consensus on the actions we can take, right now in the short term, to turn the tide on crime. That requires tackling gun violence and the revolving door, while rebuilding a dismantled behavioral health system and expanding our proven violence intervention programs and diversion options.
MCI has completed its working sessions, and last week we rolled out a checklist of 40 action items. This list is by no means the start or the end of the work that has to be done. It’s about naming clear priorities and keeping a scorecard to get them done.
I am grateful to the partners in the MCI from the governor, to the attorney general, district attorney, State Police, public defender, courts, legislators, city councilors, behavioral health and addiction service providers and educators. It’s easy to finger-point, to make excuses, or take your ball and go home when there is disagreement. It takes strong leadership to stand up as a collective, admit where the system is failing and commit to change. After MCI discussions, the courts recently demonstrated just this by agreeing to implement 24/7 pre-trial monitoring in short order.
I invite you to read our full 40-point agenda at cabq.gov/mci, provide your input and join our push for change. Here’s just a sample:
• Create hiring and retention programs for all police agencies in New Mexico
• Strengthen gun storage laws and close loopholes in the red-flag law
• Utilize grand juries selectively to protect victims and clear backlogs
• Expand court-ordered treatment and increase diversion agreements
• Create a 24/7 sobering center and expand Turquoise Lodge
• Double down on the successful Violence Intervention Program and expand it statewide
While not every action item is supported unanimously by MCI participants, each recommendation has multiple agencies behind it, and collectively we now have a clear course of action that we can hold each other accountable to. This is a scorecard for our Legislature, for our own agencies, for city councils and county commissions, and I am committed to pursuing these changes in the coming months. This to-do list, along with bringing our Albuquerque Community Safety Department and the first Gateway Center online, has the potential to bring the real, lasting changes we’ve been striving for to our community.
Going forward, every time there is a killing involving someone who should have been behind bars, a child whose life is taken by a gun, someone unable to access addiction services, we must ask: Have we accomplished the clear changes we outlined? Have we owned up to what it takes to make a difference in our criminal justice system? If not, what is standing in our way?
This is a blueprint for the coming months, and now we must all commit to seeing it through.