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Underfunding of DA’s Office must be fixed

Correction: The headline on this op-ed was changed online to reflect the headline in the printed newspaper. The state government funds the DA’s office.

 

As a native of Albuquerque I am, like so many of you, frustrated and angry about rising crime in this community. I worry about my parents, my children, and more than anything, about the future we are jeopardizing by our collective failure to meet this crisis head on. As the newly elected district attorney of Bernalillo County, I am committed to fighting for our families and our futures by doing everything in my power to stand up for victims of crime. Part of that responsibility also requires that I give citizens an honest assessment of the resources we need to make this a safer and more prosperous community.

As a career prosecutor I am well aware of the fact that the core elements of the criminal justice system – the police, courts, prosecutors and public defenders – have all been historically underfunded both in this state and around the nation. However, I was shocked to discover that the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office is underfunded even by comparison to those other critical institutions.

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Simply put, we lack both the personnel and the basic resources necessary to provide adequate justice to the citizens of this community.

What does that mean for victims of crime?

It means half as many investigators to find key witnesses, track down critical evidence and help ensure that we can process cases within the strict time constraints that only apply to this county.

It means an insufficient number of advocates to make immediate contact with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, often resulting in failed communication about important court settings and an unacceptably high dismissal rate.

It means underpaid and inadequately trained prosecutors who are worked to their limit and who, when faced with an insufficient budget for litigation support, have resorted to paying for trial exhibits out of their own pocket or begging experts to testify for free.

Now imagine that you or a member of your family was the victim of a violent crime in this community. How would you feel if our ability to be an advocate for you or your loved one was in any way dependent on our ability to hire an expert, order a transcript or have an investigator to track down a key witness?

For far too long our public dialogue about rising crime has been entirely focused on whether and by how much we should increase penalties for particular types of crime, while little if any attention is paid to the fact that the people who work on the front lines simply don’t have what they need to enforce existing law.

Of course I recognize that falling revenue has placed extraordinary pressure on our state budget, and I do not envy the position of members of the Legislature who are faced with competing demands for spending on economic development, infrastructure, health and education.

But I also know that our inability to get a handle on crime – particularly violent crime – will continue to have a real and dramatic effect on our ability to attract investment, develop a stable economy, and retain our best and brightest.

Fortunately, we have the ability to change our future, build a safer community, and create a smart, tough and innovative criminal justice system that not only makes us safe but also makes us proud. I say this with confidence because I have the privilege of working with extraordinary public servants who come to work every day to serve and support victims of crime with few resources, little pay and even less recognition.

Why do they do it? Because they believe in this place, they are committed to you and to the community we are trying to build for ourselves and our families.

It’s long past time to recognize their commitment and give them the tools they need to get the job done. Our future depends on it.


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