Lujan Grisham brings back commission to target organized crime in New Mexico - Albuquerque Journal

Lujan Grisham brings back commission to target organized crime in New Mexico

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, center, introduces 8th Judicial District Attorney Marcus Montoya, left, former New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura, 2nd Judicial District Attorney Sam Bregman, right, and other members of the organized crime commission Wednesday at the Capitol. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham joined prosecutors Wednesday to revive a 1970s commission targeting organized crime in New Mexico — a move she said would help combat human trafficking and illegal fentanyl sales.

The panel, she said, will produce recommendations to policymakers and strengthen law enforcement coordination across jurisdictions.

“If you have a problem, my view is — all hands on deck,” Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said Wednesday in a news conference at the Capitol.

The commission, authorities said, will pursue strategies for disrupting the operations of international drug cartels and street gangs in New Mexico, which are particularly active in fentanyl distribution, sex trafficking and illegal gun sales.

New Mexico had the nation’s second-highest violent crime rate in 2020, though incomplete data has made it difficult to compare in recent years. Albuquerque, the state’s largest city, broke its own record for homicides in each of the last two years.

District Attorney Sam Bregman, whose jurisdiction covers the Albuquerque area, will lead the new commission. It will hold public and private meetings while developing a comprehensive plan, he said, to suppress organized criminal organizations, which he described as a driving force behind street crime.

“It’s exactly, I think, what this state needs,” Bregman said of the commission. “We will focus as a commission on getting a handle on gun violence and the proliferation of gun trafficking in our communities — taking on the cartels, their affiliates and the criminal organizations who are poisoning our people with fentanyl.”

Republican lawmakers at the Capitol, by contrast, said reestablishing a commission isn’t enough on its own to curtail crime.

“House Republicans are committed to using the interim to develop practical solutions that address the root causes of crime and the mental health issues plaguing our communities,” House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said in a written statement. “We are concerned about creating yet another commission allowing politicians to take political victory laps but not provide real solutions.”

The bipartisan commission, established in 1973, produced its last major report in 1978, Lujan Grisham said, though records indicate it may have been active as recently as then-Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration, which ended in 2010.

She acknowledged some governors may not have felt it was necessary given the other ways law enforcement agencies can collaborate across jurisdictions. But reestablishing the commission, she said, will send a message to organized crime organizations and produce reports that can help guide crime-fighting strategies.

The newly appointed members include Judith Nakamura, retired chief justice of the state Supreme Court; U.S. Marshal Sonya Chavez; Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen; and others.

Allen described the commission as a way to coordinate resources across jurisdictional boundaries.

“We have to show we’re a unified front across law enforcement,” he said.

State Attorney General Raúl Torrez isn’t a member but will support the commission’s work.

“A lot of times people in our community look at isolated crimes or criminal events, and they don’t see the connection,” he said. But “a good deal of what we see each and every day in our community is actually driven by organizations.”

Under state law, the Governor’s Organized Crime Prevention Commission is made up of seven members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. No more than four members can be of the same political party.

It has subpoena power and may initiate investigations. But any proposed changes to the state’s criminal code would have to be approved by the Legislature.

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