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The mayor of Albuquerque on Friday called on the New Mexico Legislature to tackle a series of “tough-on-crime” bills during its ongoing session, arguing there is a dire need for legislative action and brushing aside criticism that one of the highest-profile proposed changes may do little to reduce crime.
Mayor Tim Keller – himself a former state senator – reiterated his administration’s support for legislation that would make it easier to keep people charged with certain crimes behind bars before trial, expand the city’s Violence Intervention Program across New Mexico, increase penalties for those who use firearms while committing crimes, study gun violence through a public health lens and more. The second-term mayor, his chief administrative officer and police chief made their case by describing a frustrated community beset by violence.
“We’re at a troubling time. … Crime – especially violent crime – has gotten to a level that our citizens are fed up, and I think they’ve made their voice heard very well that they demand change,” Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said during a teleconferenced media briefing.
Albuquerque in 2021 broke its annual homicide record for the third time since 2017. The city’s most recent crime data show increases in other violent crime too, but an overall dip in total crime due to lower property crime levels.
Keller said many essential changes require state action and if lawmakers do not vote on the proposals during the regular 30-day session, they should convene for a special session.
“Here’s the message from Albuquerque: This has to be fixed,” he said.
Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair warned against viewing any of the bills in a vacuum, saying the city-backed slate includes several important proposals and “they all work together.”
But critics have galvanized around one in particular. The rebuttable presumption bill would change pretrial detention; instead of requiring prosecutors to show why a defendant should stay behind bars before trial, certain defendants are presumed to be too dangerous to release, although defendants are provided the opportunity to show otherwise. Critics cite University of New Mexico Institute for Social Research data showing that the overwhelming majority of defendants currently being released are not rearrested for violent felony offenses and argue that the change would keep many people who haven’t been convicted locked up while their cases work through the system.
But Nair said the 5% that UNM found were arrested on violent offenses while awaiting trial is significant. “This is a matter of life and death,” she said. “Would you jump out of a plane if you knew that your parachute was going to fail 5% of the time?”
Keller, meanwhile, said the Legislature cannot find excuses to stand back. “It’s always easier to say no for some small, ticky tack reason than it is to actually move forward, and that’s what we need this session,” he said.