Editorial: Crime's unrelenting hold - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Crime’s unrelenting hold

Four random people stabbed in the neck or face on a recent Sunday afternoon in Albuquerque by a man wearing a “Heisenberg” hat. Eleven random people stabbed at seven different sites in the city, mostly along Central, by a man on a bike in February. A Taos Middle School student stabbed in the neck last week by a campus intruder who claimed to be the eighth-grader’s father. New homicide cases seemingly occurring every day, as the state’s largest city again moves toward another record-setting year of triple-digit homicides. Retail crime rampant, with tales of thieves walking out, unaccosted, with armloads of items. California Sureños gang members adopting New Mexico as their new home state because, as a confidential informant explained, they can be themselves here.

While a majority of those surveyed in a recent Journal Poll did not list crime as a major concern facing their families, 82% did say it was a “very serious” issue, a higher percentage than any other issue. Fourteen percent say crime is “a somewhat serious problem,” and only 3% say crime is “a minor problem.”

Concerns about crime cut across party lines, geographic regions and age.

“Everyone thinks crime is a problem,” says Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc.

By comparison, only a quarter of likely voters describe COVID-19 as very serious, while 77% characterize homelessness as a very serious problem, a sharp increase from 54% four years ago.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said this summer the city’s infamous homeless camp at Coronado Park, since closed, was “the most dangerous place in the state of New Mexico.”

More importantly, the link between violent, drug and property crimes is well-established.

A morning raid Sept. 1 by various law enforcement agencies at 15 locations in Albuquerque’s South Valley netted nearly $2 million in cash, a million fentanyl pills, about 142 pounds of methamphetamine, two hand grenades, ballistic vests, a bulletproof baseball cap, 37 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Neither U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Alexander Uballez nor Raul Bujanda, special agent in charge of the FBI in New Mexico, could recall a bigger seizure of drugs in New Mexico. (And yet to put that in perspective, Attorney General Hector Balderas says “it is more profitable now to go and steal from our local retailers than it is to sell drugs and guns in New Mexico.”)

Officials said the California-based Sureños gang is now a major player in the illicit drug market in Albuquerque, and some Sureños gang members released from federal prison are choosing to settle in New Mexico — and not because of our weather. “A lot of California Sureños were not returning to California due to tougher laws there, the cost of living, and the fact that New Mexico was ‘an easy place to live … and be us’ (Sureños),” an informant told federal law enforcement.

The Sureños and ultraviolent Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang are a cancer on New Mexico and our families. More than 160 SNM gang members have been arrested, including its top leader, but the influence of the 42-year-old prison gang continues from federal prison and on the streets.

The FBI must continue to vigorously investigate and crack down on the evolving alliance among street and prison gangs in the state. Crime is literally spilling over our prison walls and into our streets. And the push by both Bernalillo County sheriff’s candidates to dedicate more of the force to the streets, and by Mayor Tim Keller to hire more police officers, needs to happen. While the state funded additional officers this last session, and those are much appreciated, there simply still are not enough state and local police in the face of this crime wave.

Meanwhile, the crime package passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor in March has done little to date. Some of its provisions don’t take effect until next year, while other proposals were omitted or watered down, and still others have zero to do with the kind of rampant violent and property crime we are seeing.

We need a targeted crime bill that keeps violent people behind bars, aggregates the value of stolen items so serial shoplifting is a felony, holds adults accountable for not securing their guns and makes our “three strikes” law actually usable for serious repeat offenders.

We also need our courts to streamline processes so law enforcement and witnesses don’t have to show up multiple times for the same case: We have heard of too many retailers simply writing off losses rather than helping prosecute thieves who drive up costs for everyone else. And we need swift justice that sends a strong message that the innocent will be cleared and the guilty punished.

People are frightened and fed up, that’s clear enough. We need everyone to pitch in if we’re going to restore law and order.

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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