Police and community groups discuss curbing crime

Jan. 20 – Lawmakers from both major parties vow to do something this year to end the crime that’s worrying and terrifying New Mexicans.

Just a week into this year’s 60-day legislative session, more than 20 bills have been introduced to crack down on crime, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has backed ideas such as increasing the number of suspected violent criminals being held in custody.

As lawmakers weigh various tough measures, some progressive advocacy groups hope lawmakers do more to fight poverty, help children and the mentally ill, and otherwise address the systemic problems that lead to crime, rather than punitive measures they believe after not the case have worked in the past.

“We would be disingenuous if we said there is an immediate fix to this problem,” said Nayomi Valdez, director of public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. “We didn’t come here overnight. What we are seeing in rising crime rates is systems that are systematically failing. Many of the people incarcerated today are the children we failed decades ago.”

Surveys have shown that crime is a problem for many. A September 13 KRQE News poll by Emerson College Polling found that over 65% of the 1,000 New Mexicans polled believed crime had increased, including 54% of Democrats and more than 80% of Republicans. Almost half of those surveyed said they either knew someone who had been a victim of a home or vehicle break-in in the past year or had been a victim themselves.

Those concerns became clear during last year’s gubernatorial campaign, when Republicans accused Lujan Grisham of not doing enough on crime and she responded with ads featuring Democratic sheriffs announcing their support for law enforcement. Lujan Grisham, who was re-elected in November, vowed in her state of state address Tuesday to increase police funding and support new gun control laws and other crime-fighting measures.

“We will remain committed to our obligation to establish a ‘rebuttable presumption’ to ensure high-risk violent offenders remain behind bars before trial,” she said. “We will fight organized crime and the criminals who fund it through retail and business theft, and take down the syndicates terrorizing our business community. And we will continue to expand our police force to ensure our law enforcement agencies have the personnel, training and tools to serve our neighborhoods effectively.”

The bills introduced so far range from stricter gun control measures, new penalties for those who own a firearm while selling drugs, to providing proof of sale of catalytic converters, a car part that controls exhaust emissions and is often stolen for the metals it contains . There are also some bills to fund programs to support behavioral and mental health and substance abuse programs to address societal issues that can drive people to turn to crime.

Law enforcement agencies and activist organizations have their own thoughts on what legislation they want to see passed before the session ends in mid-March. Some were reluctant to say too much too soon. Others offered suggestions for lawmakers to consider.

“I think we need to support all laws that deal with repeat offenders and violent offenders that deal with firearms when it comes to drugs and violent offenders and I think we need to consider anything to do with pre-trial release Santa Fe County Sheriff Adam Mendoza said.

Watch carefully

Mendoza was reluctant to speak out about specific bills but said he goes through them as they are submitted and keeps an eye on those that could affect how he and his deputies do their jobs. He also enjoys discussing bills with other sheriffs in the state, such as at the New Mexico Counties Legislative Conference that ended Thursday.

“We go through [crime-related bills] with a fine comb and… brainstorm any issues about how these bills could be better, how we would like to approach the legislature in relation to some of the proposed bills or for some legislation that would benefit law enforcement. said Mendoza.

Santa Fe Police Chief Paul Joye said he was keeping an eye on the bills filed ahead of Tuesday’s session, but added he would like to see what happens before he considers the impact the legislation might have will have on his officials. He said he doesn’t like to stray too far from the data when commenting on legislation.

Ultimately, the legislature has the final say on how criminal legislation is designed.

“If people don’t like the laws that are being enforced or the way that laws are being enforced, there is a mechanism for that and it goes through their legislature,” he said.

Make preventive suggestions

In the meantime, groups like the ACLU and New Mexico Voices for Children hope lawmakers will focus on preventive, long-term actions that could eliminate the systemic problems that lead to crime.

“It goes without saying that we all share the goal of making our communities safe,” Valdez said in an interview.

Among other things, she said lawmakers should consider measures to reduce food insecurity and address mental and behavioral health problems, and invest in creating affordable emergency shelters for people who need it, including those who are getting out of prison and want to start their lives a new.

“What we don’t want is a failed or outdated ‘hard law enforcement’ policy or excessive incarceration,” Valdez said. “We cannot afford to resort to failed policies.”

Recent data from children’s rights group New Mexico Voices for Children says that 51% of families in the state have struggled to pay for normal household expenses, while 35% reported that children sometimes or often don’t eat enough because they can’t afford enough food. Another problem is that many children in the state have parents who are incarcerated, adding to the emotional, mental and financial toll they are taking, said Amber Wallin, executive director of the group.

Lawmakers should seek ways to reduce so-called negative childhood experiences by improving economic security for families; providing protection to traumatized children; Providing more tax credits to families and supporting early childhood education and care programs, Wallin said in an interview. She also wants the state to investigate the impact of parental incarceration on families.

“Long-term, parental incarceration can take a devastating toll on children,” she said.

Emily Kaltenbach, senior state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said it’s important to describe what crimes the state is trying to combat, rather than developing a narrow approach to address them all.

“We tend to lump all crimes together,” she said in an interview. “Are we talking about property crime? homicides? drug offenses?

“I understand that people in some neighborhoods and communities don’t feel safe. We have to take this seriously. But you can’t just lock someone up forever and say, ‘That’s it.’ And not everyone gets locked up forever.”

Those calling for more investment in social services recognize that it will take time for these programs to work.

“These are long-term solutions because these are long-term problems,” Valdez said. “Anyone who tries to portray them differently is not grounded in the reality of the situation.”

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