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Berry calls for Legislature to get tough on crime

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry on Friday outlined his priorities for the upcoming legislative session and called on the state’s policymakers to get tough on crime and pass a “three-strikes” law as well as laws to protect police officers.

Criminal defense attorneys and the ACLU, however, say the legislation on the mayor’s agenda won’t reduce crime and, in some ways, will revive criminal justice practices the rest of the country is moving away from.

The 30-day session starts next week and comes after a year in which homicides and the shooting deaths of two police officers in the line of duty rocked the Albuquerque area. Legislators are expected to consider several proposed bills that affect the criminal justice system in some way.

Berry, a Republican, said in a news conference that these are among the measures that he supports:

  • court-ordered treatment for people determined to be in crisis due to mental illness;
  • adding police officers to the protected classes, which include people of different religions and races, covered by state hate crime laws;
  • a three-strikes law that calls for a life sentence for anyone convicted of three violent felonies in separate cases;
  • increased sentences for gang members;
  • a law that gives municipalities the option to impose curfews for teenagers;
  • return-to-work legislation for retired police officers.

“I have two goals in mind. Number one, we want to keep our community safe. And number two, we want our officers to get home safely at the end of their shift,” Berry said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico has taken a position against most of the types of bills that the mayor is supporting.

“Mayor Berry’s legislative agenda follows from the same ‘lock-em-up’ mentality that has failed us for years. We can’t incarcerate our way out of every societal problem our city faces,” Peter Simonson, the director of the ACLU of New Mexico, said in a statement.

Both Simonson and Matt Coyte, the president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, said a better approach to reducing crime would be investing in resources for children and communities instead of locking up convicts for longer stretches.

Berry said he plans to testify in the Legislature next week alongside several family members of people killed in homicides in Albuquerque last year.

The mayor said murder was up in Albuquerque in 2015 compared with 2014. FBI statistics show that crime in Albuquerque has been increasing over the last several years, but crime rates are still much lower than they were in the 1990s.

Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden held a news conference last week to announce his support for giving officers hate-crime protections and three-strikes laws. The police department’s administration is also supporting return-to-work legislation.

Shaun Willoughby, the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said that, while the union is against return-to-work legislation, the city’s police officers would support some of the bills the mayor is supporting.

Coyte said crime is a complicated problem that can’t be solved merely by harsh prison sentences, which he said have already been getting longer in recent years.

“Experience has taught us creating more laws with inflexible mandatory minimums does nothing to reduce crime,” he said in a statement. “I wish the mayor would focus on the root causes of these statistics rather than reverting to a failed ‘three strikes’ narrative the rest of the country is backing away from.”

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