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BernCo DA says crime ‘out of control’ in county

SANTA FE – Newly elected Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez told lawmakers Friday that crime is “out of control” in New Mexico’s most populous county and more funding is urgently needed.

But members of a House budget-writing committee said that, with the state facing an ongoing crunch, district attorneys will have to get creative in how they do their jobs.

The 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office has requested a nearly 4 percent budget increase for the fiscal year starting in July, from $17.8 million to $18.5 million.

However, Torrez said he said he played no role in putting together the office’s budget request – that was apparently done by his predecessor, Kari Brandenburg – and indicated he might have asked for more.

“If I had taken part in crafting this budget, I would tell you this is a $25 million operation with a $19 million budget,” he said, actually overstating the office’s current budget.

Even a 4 percent budget request appears unlikely to be granted.

After spending cuts were enacted last fall, Gov. Susana Martinez has recommended keeping funding levels for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office flat for the coming year, while the Legislative Finance Committee recommended a funding increase of less than 1 percent.

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which is putting together a state budget bill, on Friday endorsed the governor’s recommendation.

Before the committee’s vote, Torrez told panel members the homicide rate in Bernalillo County has reached its highest level in 20 years and yet his office cannot afford laptop computers for its prosecutors.

“What I can tell you is that the historical underfunding of the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s office is directly connected with violent repeat offenders in our community and our inability to take those people off the streets,” Torrez said.

He also said the office needs between 20 and 25 additional prosecutors to help with what he described as a “crushing” caseload and a Supreme Court order intended to speed up the handling of cases.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, who previously worked in the DA’s office, agreed with Torrez’s pleas, saying the entire judicial system is understaffed.

However, other lawmakers said their hands are largely tied, though they pledged to look for more money if possible.

“We’re certainly aware of the situation we have,” said Rep. Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque.