Albuquerque Journal

ABQ lawmakers pitch fixes to rise in violent crime

House Democrats’ 16 proposals aim to stem the tide of bloodshed


SANTA FE — After several recent high-profile shootings in Albuquerqu­e, violent crime appears poised to be a major topic of debate during the 30-day legislativ­e session that starts in January.

House Democrats from New Mexico’s largest city announced Thursday a comprehens­ive “crimefight­ing” package that would include changes to the state’s pretrial detention system, expanded mental health treatment programs and increased criminal penalties.

In all, the package includes 16 proposals, though details on some of the items are not likely to be fully fleshed out until they are filed as bills.

And at least some of the provisions, such as extending prosecutor­s’ time limit for filing second-degree murder charges, have been previously pushed by House Republican­s, who have urged Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to call a special session focused on crime.

In response to the Democrats’ announceme­nt, House GOP floor leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, accused Democrats of helping to create a “rampant” crime problem.

“We hope they are as serious about addressing crime as they have been about coddling criminals

throughout our communitie­s,” Townsend said. “We also hope they start to give law enforcemen­t the credit and respect they deserve. The disregard Democrat legislator­s have for our officers is simply not conducive to turning things around.”

However, Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerqu­e, said she’s hopeful some crimerelat­ed proposals, including a bill dealing with penalties for stealing copper materials, can win bipartisan support.

She also said lawmakers and top state officials increasing­ly agree a comprehens­ive approach is needed to reverse an increase in violent crime across New Mexico.

“There’s probably more consensus that stiffer penalties aren’t the only answer,” said Dixon, who recently accompanie­d law enforcemen­t officers on patrol in her foothills-area legislativ­e district.

Democratic lawmakers blocked many GOP-backed crime bills from advancing during the administra­tion of former Gov. Susana Martinez, including a push to bring back the death penalty for those convicted of certain violent offenses.

However, proposals dealing with tougher penalties for drunken driving and distributi­ng child pornograph­y have been signed into law in recent years.

More recently, crime-related proposals were not a primary focus of this year’s 60-day legislativ­e session, as measures dealing with pandemic relief, abortion, public schools and legalizing recreation­al cannabis all drew lengthy debates.

But things could be different in 2022, after the recent shooting of three Albuquerqu­e police officers — another officer was also injured in the incident — and the shooting death of a 13-year-old boy at his middle school have prompted calls for action.

Albuquerqu­e has already set a yearly record for homicides with 86 suspected killings, and other types of violent crime have also increased, though the metro area’s auto theft rate has dropped by 42% since 2017.

Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerqu­e, the chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the proposed crime package backed by 18 House Democrats from Albuquerqu­e would take a “multi-faceted approach” to addressing violent crime.

“What’s become evident is that while we have been increasing our investment­s in long-term solutions like education, families, and mental and behavioral health, much more needs to be done to address the violence happening today,” Chasey said in a statement.

For her part, Lujan Grisham has said she wants to see changes to New Mexico’s pretrial detention system aimed at making it easier to keep people charged with violent offenses behind bars pending trial, though some fellow Democrats oppose such a plan.

The governor, who has the power to determine which non-budgetary bills can be discussed during 30-day legislativ­e sessions, has also said she wants lawmakers to approve $100 million to fund an additional 1,000 police officer positions throughout the state during next year’s session.

Meanwhile, the legislativ­e focus on crime-related issues comes with a new election cycle on the horizon. All 70 House seats will be up for election in 2022, along with statewide offices for governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

 ?? ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/JOURNAL ?? Albuquerqu­e police officials investigat­e a suspected homicide in June. New Mexico lawmakers are proposing a wide range of measures to address a rise in violent crime rates.
ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/JOURNAL Albuquerqu­e police officials investigat­e a suspected homicide in June. New Mexico lawmakers are proposing a wide range of measures to address a rise in violent crime rates.

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