ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Several New Mexico House Republicans and Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden called for support of a bill that would reform the state’s “three strikes law” and another that would add law enforcement officers as a protected class in the New Mexico Hate Crimes Act.
The request was made at Albuquerque police headquarters on Saturday morning. After the news conference, Reps. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, and Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, joined Albuquerque officers on their patrol. Eden has invited all legislators to ride along with on-duty police officers as the lawmakers prepare to start the upcoming 30-day legislative session, where several law enforcement- and criminal justice-related bills are set to be discussed.
Gentry and Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, introduced House Bill 95, which would make it a hate crime to commit crimes against officers just because of their profession.
“With all this anti-police rhetoric, I think it’s appropriate to apply (hate crimes laws) to law enforcement,” said Gentry. “We’ve seen anti-police rhetoric that, in my mind, we need to help discourage.”
He said the hate crime law could potentially be applied to people arrested for crimes during a protest against police, but prosecutors would have to prove the person was motivated by hate to commit a crime against an officer. He added that it wouldn’t apply to someone who, for example, “got too rowdy” at a protest and threw a bottle.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is opposed to the bill.
“The criminal act is what we should punish,” ACLU spokesman Micah McCoy said in an interview on Saturday. “Not what may or may not be in someone’s head.”
Currently under the state’s hate crimes laws, prosecutors can seek sentencing enhancements for attacks on minorities, the elderly and the disabled, and attacks motivated by a person’s race, sexual orientation, disability, gender, age or ancestry.
At least one Democratic representative has questioned the idea of making police officers a protected class, according to previous news reports.
But Eden said the bill would make officers safer.
“We definitely need that layer of protection for our officers,” Eden said on Saturday. “One of the things that good legislation does is prevent things from happening.”
Pacheco is also sponsoring House Bill 56 that would modify the state’s “three strikes law” to enhance the sentences of repeat violent offenders. The bill would call for a life sentence for anyone convicted of certain types of violent felonies in three separate cases.
A former Albuquerque officer himself, Pacheco pointed out that both Albuquerque police officer Daniel Webster and Rio Rancho police officer Gregg Benner were shot and killed by men with criminal histories.
During the previous legislative session, Matthew Coyte, the president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Bar, said such laws would take judicial discretion out of the sentencing process. He said mandatory minimums have failed elsewhere in America.
Some Democrats who have weighed changes to the state’s criminal code have said there are better ways to improve the state’s criminal justice system, according to past Journal news reports.