Criminal justice system in metro is not 'broken' - Albuquerque Journal

Criminal justice system in metro is not ‘broken’

On Sept. 23, Mayor Keller concluded a conference dubbed the “Metro Crime Initiative.” Participants included APD, the District Attorney’s Office, the courts and many other stakeholders to address what all participants labeled the “broken criminal justice” system and calling it a “revolving door.”

The entire “Metro Crime Initiative” started with the phony premise our criminal justice system is broken. It’s not. The criminal justice system is only as good as the stakeholders who are responsible to make it work and succeed. The three main components of the criminal justice system are law enforcement, prosecution and the courts. Examination of all three reflects failure to do their jobs.

Law enforcement

APD statistics for the budget years of 2019 and 2020 reflect APD is not doing its job of investigating and arresting people. APD felony arrests went down from 2019 to 2020 by 39.51%, going down from 10,945 to 6,621. Misdemeanor arrests went down by 15%, from 19,440 to 16,520. DWI arrests went down from 1,788 in 2019 to 1,230 in 2020, down 26%. The total number of all arrests went down from 32,173 in 2019 to 24,371 in 2020 or by 25%. Bookings at the jail have plummeted from 38,349 in 2010 to 17,734 in 2020. To have bookings, there must be arrests. APD’s homicide unit has an anemic clearance rate of 36%.

The prosecution

When Raúl Torrez ran for district attorney the first time, he said our criminal justice system was broken. Torrez accused the District Courts of being responsible for the rise in crime and releasing violent offenders pending trial. He accused defense attorneys of “gaming the system” to get cases dismissed against their clients. A report to the Supreme Court prepared by the District Court revealed it is the DA’s Office dismissing more felony cases for various reasons than the courts. The DA’s Office currently has the highest voluntary dismissal rate in its history, and plea agreements with low penalties are the norm. Data given to the Supreme Court revealed overcharging and a failure to screen cases by the DA’s Office contributes to a combined 65% mistrial, acquittal and dismissal rate.

The courts

A negative perception of the courts is created when judges release violent felons and don’t hold them for trial without bond. It’s common knowledge that judges are concerned about their disqualification rates, appeals and reversals and how they are perceived by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. Judges are reluctant to make decisions and hold off on making the hard decisions to avoid controversy to protect their jobs.

The criminal justice system in this country and this state has never been perfect, nor will it ever be, but it is not broken. The criminal justice system does have its flaws and a number of inequities, but to say it is a broken system is just plain ignorance or political opportunism at its worst.

The participants in the city-sponsored “Metro Crime Initiative” know what is wrong with the state’s criminal justice system. It is not a “broken system” but a “systems failure” caused by their own failures to act and to do their jobs effectively. The problems and shortcomings within our criminal justice system will not ever go away unless and until the stakeholders do their own jobs in an effective and competent manner.

 

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