Democrats in the New Mexico House of Representatives announced months ago they planned to get tough on crime.

With start of the 2022 legislative session just weeks away, they now say they are ready to back up the boast with bills.

Republicans, who long have been calling for more stringent measures to boost crime-fighting efforts in a state with rising gun violence and increasing rates of other types of crime, are likely to join Democrats in what is expected to be a House-driven effort to toughen laws.

“I think the governor will be focusing on an all-hands-on-deck fighting crime package,” said Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque, who is working on a bill addressing safe gun storage. It would impose penalties on parents or other adults if a child gets a hold of their gun and uses the weapon to make a threat or commit violence.

Crime has become one of the top issues in New Mexico, Herndon said. When walking in her own neighborhood, she added, she frequently encounters a constituent with a concern: “My car was broken into. What can we do about that?”

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, a retired police officer, has unsuccessfully pushed for years to toughen certain crime laws, including an effort to eliminate New Mexico’s statute of limitations on a charge of second-degree murder, now set at six years.

The public is crying out, “Hey, you’ve got to do something,” he said.

“Unfortunately, politicians have to respond to what constituents are saying,” Rehm said. “I say ‘unfortunately’ because I think it’s obvious we should have done something sooner. It’s now a crisis, and we have to fix it.”

He and Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, plan to work together in the upcoming session on another proposal that would increase the statute of limitations in second-degree murder cases, he added.

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said GOP senators likely will wait until they see what Democrats are proposing before filing any crime-related legislation. Republicans are working on crafting bills to stem crime “while at the same time keeping peoples’ constitutional rights, which is important,” he said.

Brandt said thinks Democrats might be more concerned about “election season” results than actually fighting crime in New Mexico.

Noting many Democrats gave former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and GOP lawmakers grief for being “tough on crime,” he said the fact that Democrats are “bringing all these crime bills kind of says we were right.”

Among the bills being considered by House Democrats: proposals to increase retention pay for police officers, impose more severe penalties for shoplifters and car thieves, and give judges more leeway to keep defendants jailed until trial if they pose a violent threat to the public.

Albuquerque lawmakers, in particular, have been under pressure to act as the city wrangles with one of the nation’s highest rates of violent crime. In 2021, Albuquerque saw homicides skyrocket; it matched its record of 81 slayings, set in 2019, by August and ended the year with at least 116, the Albuquerque Journal reported last week.

The shooting of four city police officers during a robbery and the fatal shooting of a student at a downtown middle school also led to calls from the public for officials to find a way to stop the violence.

The city and county of Santa Fe also saw violence spike, with 11 homicides in 2021 — not including the October shooting death of a renowned cinematographer on a movie set — as well as six shootings by police officers, four of them fatal.

In November, a state Legislative Finance Committee report said New Mexico’s violent crime rate had increased 30 percent between 2014 and 2020. The report also said the violent crime clearance rate — the rate at which such crimes are closed, usually through arrest — fell 25 percent in that same time period.

The committee also reported the number of law enforcement officers in the state remained stagnant during much of that time.

New Mexico State Police has a vacancy rate of about 11 percent, according to Officer Dusty Francisco, a spokesman for the agency. Santa Fe police interim Chief Paul Joye cited a vacancy rate of just over 20 percent in his department, with the investigations unit down by about a third of its officers.



Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is calling for a $100 million investment to hire more police officers around the state. Her spokesman, Tripp Stelnicki, wrote in an email Wednesday that it likely wouldn’t involve its own legislation but instead would be an item included in her state budget proposal for fiscal year 2023.

Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, said she is drafting a bill to provide 5 percent raises for officers in an effort to retain them. “We can’t continue to hire and recruit more officers without working to retain them,” she said, adding her bill also will call for an analysis of the incentive’s effectiveness.

Homicides and a lack of police presence are not the only law enforcement issues plaguing New Mexico. The state — especially Albuquerque — often falls among the top 10 states in the nation for its rate of auto thefts. Dixon and Rehm are both working on legislation to create tougher penalties for so-called chop shops, illegal operations that strip stolen vehicles for parts.

Chop shop operators are now prosecuted under state racketeering laws, which, Dixon said, are difficult to prosecute. Her bill proposes a third-degree felony charge against operators. She said the change would make it easier for law enforcement to pursue cases.

Another proposal favored by Lujan Grisham, one that might court controversy, is a bill to amend the state’s pretrial detention law. It would require a defendant accused of a violent crime to prove they have a right to be released from jail before their trial — rather than putting the onus on prosecutors to provide evidence the defendant poses too great a risk to the community to be released.

The debate over imposing stricter guidelines for pretrial release of such defendants, who are presumed innocent until they are found guilty at trial, has been a contentious one. Critics say the guidelines would disproportionately affect minorities, and they argue defendants could end up staying behind bars for months awaiting a trial date — time they cannot gain back if they are acquitted.

The University of New Mexico’s Institute of Social Research conducted a study analyzing over 10,000 cases in Bernalillo County in which defendants charged with felonies were released from custody pending trial between July 2017 and March 2020. It found 95 percent of the defendants were not arrested for a violent crime during that release period. Of those who were arrested, the report said, most were charged with misdemeanors or fourth-degree felonies.

Still, the system is not entirely working for the good of the public, said Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque.

She pointed to Darian Bashir, who recently was found guilty of fatally shooting UNM baseball player Jackson Weller in 2019.

Bashir had a history of criminal violence, at the time of Weller’s death he was on a supervisory release plan while awaiting trial on a charge of shooting an assault weapon from a car at another vehicle.

“That’s frustrating to the public,” Matthews said. “They don’t understand it. I don’t understand it. We have to have a balance. Defendants have a right, an interest to stay free, but society has a right to protect itself from people who commit violent crimes.”

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and co-chairman of the interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee, said Friday he expected the Senate to take “a hard look” at legislation that would change New Mexico’s pretrial detention laws.

“There are a lot of people who are dissatisfied with the current outcomes on those initiatives,” he said.

Rehm, who also is working on a bill to impose stricter conditions for pretrial release and one that would create harsher penalties for serial shoplifters, said he believes the public is demanding action on crime.

He said he is glad Republicans and Democrats are “going to work together to get this stuff passed.”

Future election results — including for next year’s House seats — could center on reducing crime, Rehm noted.

Dixon said Democratic representatives in swing districts in the state “know it’s a big issue for constituents. I absolutely think this could be a game changer in an election.”

Herndon agreed. “That is very much a concern for me,” she said.

“People are saying, ‘We put you in office. What are you going to do to make sure we’re safe?’ ”

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(74) comments

Russell Scanlon

This is NOT a problem that will be solved by attempting to use a left/right argument for political points. Most of us know the difference between wrong and right and the “blame” for the crime problem falls on all sides of the spectrum.

andres paglayan

We need more policing In the streets. How long has been since you saw a patrol car stopping a driver for speeding in Santa Fe?

Lyndell Vallner

Now that it's 2022 and another election year...there will be lots of talk and promises but most likely there will only be more arguments and posturing on who is right and wrong...and nothing will actually get done.

Emily Koyama

Seems like there are two schools of thought.

A) Bring about societal reforms that address inequality, poverty, drug addiction, mental illness, etc etc.

B) Get tough on violent criminals and chronic repeat offenders. Lock 'em up for long stints in the Graybar hotel to protect society.

Some commenters here try to ride the fence and suggest we do a little bit of both.

I say we have to do a LOT of both.

Lock up the violent and repeat offenders.

Fund initiatives that deal will the root causes of crime. Both need to happen. Now.

Donald Apodaca

Emily Koyama, I AGREE. We need to do a LOT of both.[thumbup]

Khal Spencer

[thumbup]

Russell Scanlon

We don’t agree on much but we agree on this.

Richard Reinders

[thumbup][thumbup]

Chris Taylor

There's only one solution to this problem and that is to reduce poverty there's a direct connection between poverty and crime 50% of the entire state is living at or below the poverty line median income is $25,000 that is your problem fix that and most of the crime goes away what crime is left get tougher on

John Cook

The idea that the burden should be on an accused to establish a right to bail is, first, crazy and, second, a violation of the 8th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

Mike Johnson

Oh, they should not be denied bail, unless it is a very heinous and violent crime as a repeat offender, but bail should be set high enough to keep them in jail.

John Cook

The United States Constitution disagrees with you.

Mike Johnson

Mr. Cook, many criminals sit in jail because they cannot make bail, it is very common and I have seen no cases where they sued to get to SCOTUS on that.....

Donald Apodaca

[thumbup]

Emily Hartigan

So rich violent people like Robert Durst get out, right?

Chris Taylor

High enough to keep them in jail means no bail if they are a flight risk you have bail if they are a danger to society they should be reminded without bail if they are not a danger to society and not a flight risk bail should be zero otherwise it's punitive and that's illegal

Khal Spencer

At least at the Federal level, it looks from this like the burden of denying bail is on the state.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/481/739

Chris Mechels

Perhaps folks should recall that we tried all this "tough on crime" stuff, going back to the 1990s. They seem to have a short memory. Bill Rehm is a dangerous man, who would give us a police state. Part of the package needed is Police Reform, and better police training. When police fail to follow the laws, and their policies, they are just criminals in uniform, and add to the problem. NM police, today, do not follow our laws or their policies, and they and they are dangerous. We need to return to the "Rule of Law", which we have abandoned.

Melissa Romero

Yes, we did.. and it worked rather well. I'm glad we're going back to it.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]

Chris Taylor

You are either not very bright or do not read very much history or you lived in a cave crime has steadily risen at about 200% the rate the population has risen in 1962 the population first surpassed 1 million people violent crime was 1338 today the population is just past 2 million people and violent crime is 17,450 property crime is actually down 42,021, 000 in 1962 and 65,000 so it's actually up it's up 30%

Now look at poverty and you'll have your answer 50% of the entire State lives below the poverty line there's your answer your willingness or unwillingness to realize this fact is part of the problem today

You want to reduce crime? You reduce poverty then you get tough on whatever crime is left over that's how you fix this problem

John Fly

How about a law stating you can use deadly force to protect your property.

Mike Johnson

We can do that now, but if Ms. Viscoli and her anti-gun activists have their way, a new law will pass that you will be required to have it locked up in a safe, and have the ammo locked up and stored separately, rendering it useless to protect your property or yourself.

John Cook

We have always had people who would kill to protect property. We have always had laws against that. If you can kill to protect property then the next person can kill you to protect his privacy and the next person can kill you to protect his strongly held beliefs. And on, forever. Therefore, deadly force may only be used to protect human life.

Mike Johnson

If someone is attempting to break into my house, they are obviously trying to kill me too.....so that works for me.

Richard Reinders

Next time someone is standing over your bed in the middle of the night make sure you ask him or her if they are here to steal or kill before you shoot them.

Chris Taylor

That has honestly got to be the dumbest set of logical connections I have seen someone try to make in quite a while you lost any logical reason when you change from property to privacy

You attempt to take what belongs to me I'm going to order you to stop if you do not stop I am going to shoot you

The solution here is very easy if you value your life more than my property don't try to take my property if not well you made your choice

Kirk Holmes

Who in the heck would even want to be in law enforcement in today’s environment? I wouldn’t blame men & women in the profession to leave their careers in droves with waving their middle fingers on the way out telling the leftest politicians “you made your bed, now lay in it”. The Dems are just only pandering for votes with this, that’s all.

Joe Estrada

+1

Khal Spencer

Policing has gotten to be a thankless job. With the far left and BLM types blaming cops for every mishap (even though it seems every crook is packing heat and willing to use it) and salaries lagging behind cost of living, its not surprising that the SFPD has a 20% staffing shortfall. It can only get worse.

Katherine Martinez

[thumbup]

John Cook

The police committed 26% of homicides in Santa Fe County last year. That is not '...every mishap...'

Khal Spencer

And virtually all of those were justifiable.

Mike Johnson

Well said Khal!

Chris Taylor

Justified yeah according to the police who have determined themselves to be innocent

Russell Scanlon

Well somehow you manage to drag BLM and the “far left” into this without mentioning the tens of thousands of white male protestors who vandalized the nation’s capital and tried to overturn and election a year ago. I don’t agree with all the stances of BLM, but it is important to remember that those protests were reactions against specific examples of police brutality—unless you are a big fan of Derek Chauvin, in which case we don’t have much to talk about.

Khal Spencer

First off, the storming of Congress is a bit of a red herring to crime in New Mexico and in that instance, the police were among the victims of violence, not the perpetrators. Secondly, there has been a bandwagon effect that because of stuff like Chauvin, it can be generalized. From what I recall about the past year, most if not all of the cop shootings of people in NM have resulted from armed criminals taking on the cops.

If we want to dredge up history, I can note that when people stormed the Plaza and trashed the obelisk, the SFPD responded with amazing restraint.

I'm a member of the Santa Fe Public Safety Committee now representing the BPAC, so hope to actually get some hands on knowledge of how stuff works here.

Chris Taylor

Being a police officer is number 18 in the top 20 most dangerous jobs list out of over 1 million sworn officers around 50 a year killed by homicide compare that with delivery driver with nearly a thousand killed every year with over 400 of them by homicide they're number five on the top 20 list so being a pizza delivery driver is more dangerous than being a police officer let that sink in for a little bit

Oh and they conduct over 20 million traffic stops per year over 50,000 per day

You're a lot less likely to die as a police officer than pretty much any other dangerous profession on the planet

Richard Reinders

Your right we ask police to go into imperfect situations and produce a perfect out come and your also right this move is for votes , it is an election year.

Chris Taylor

I only ask police to do one thing they're God dang job obey the Constitution nothing else for some reason that's really hard for them to do

Richard Reinders

Chris, police are managed by politicians and in many cases have their hands tied, this is why many are quitting or retiring and moving to police friendly states like Texas, Florida, and So. Dakota

Barry Rabkin

And I want every person, regardless of how poor or rich they are, to obey the law.

Chris Taylor

Don't let the door hit you on the way out we don't need your kind in law enforcement law enforcement made their bed

Khal Spencer

I don't think we can jail or legislate our way out of this with more tough on crime bills. Someone needs to figure out how to solve New Mexico's near insurmountable problems with drugs, cartels, poverty, illiteracy, broken families, gangs.....and the list can go one.

We see these problems where we see society in collapse. Welcome to the Land of Entrapment.

Christina Gill

Agreed, more laws will not keep anyone safe, NM needs to fund long term programs that deal with mental illness, addition, and generational abuse and pre K education if are to make an impact on these suffering's if we want a better future for all New Mexicans.

Barry Rabkin

Plus NM needs more police in every town and city. The Legislature should do everything it can to strengthen the liability shield for the police. We need to focus significantly more on arresting people who commit crimes, jailing them, strengthening sentencing rules, and sending criminals to prison. We need to focus more on victims of crimes - actual crimes rather than 'crimes' that people left-of-center think should be crimes but are not on our legal books as crimes.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]NM is the most criminal friendly state in America.

Joe Estrada

+1

Donald Apodaca

Khal Spencer, I agree. May I suggest that we tell folks how the justice system works. It's simple. You have the RIGHT to the BEST defense you and or you family and friends can AFFORD. If you wanna be a criminal save for a criminal defense lawyer and PI.

Chris Taylor

Okay then the state should be limited to the same funding for prosecution as the defense has for defense how about that :-)

Jerry Appel

Agree with your first paragraph, but disagree with your last paragraph. Yes, wherever we see social ills, no matter which state you live in, the drug solution scam runs rampant. The real solution is to acknowledge those social ills and fix them. Throwing people in jail is not fixing the issue. This entire problem is a result of our unequal economic status. this country has become a banana republic in reality while most citizens live with the illusion of economic equality.

Khal Spencer

I have no doubt that economic inequality has something to do with it or as Bob Dylan sang, "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose". But the homicide and property crime rates were highest in the 80's-90's and then dropped. Some attributed that to the last major drug scourge.

If incarceration alone was enough, we should be really safe. Incarceration has risen spectacularly in the last half century.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_the_United_States

I think it is more complicated than any one thing but as I've said before, when people are well off and have a good thing going, they generally don't rob, mug, or kill. Well, the rich might steal....with a pen. I see from the morning paper that Elon Musk is now the richest of the rich.

Chris Taylor

Compare the rise in crime in New Mexico with the increase in poverty in New Mexico and that will speak volumes anytime you increase poverty you increase crime you want to decrease crime you have to decrease poverty

Donald Apodaca

Jerry Appel, I AGREE. Thank you for sharing.

Mike Johnson

I would agree we need a longer term fix Khal, but this will take many years, and I doubt we have the political will or money to do it all. In the meantime, we need more strengthening of the laws and less discretion allowed by DA and judges on jail time, sentencing, and plea deals. This will help keep them off the streets and in jail, and that is progress for public safety.

Chris Taylor

We need less jail time jail time increases crime statistics because jail time increases poverty no matter how you spin it no matter how you try to talk about it it all comes back to crime equals poverty more poverty more crime less poverty less crime

John Cook

That is exactly right, Khal. Nearly insurmountable problems. But those are the real problems and all of us, of every political persuasion, should bend our wills toward solutions.

Khal Spencer

Agree!

Mike Johnson

The biggest problem is the revolving door in our soft-on-crime judiciary, DAs and judges are to blame. The laws need to be strengthened to not allow DAs and judges to practice this anymore, there need to be longer minimum sentences, more put in jail after indictment, no free passes for releases, lenient plea deals not allowed, etc.

Lupe Molina

If they are just going to double down on current, ineffective policies, then this will just be a huge waste of money. The initiative needs to break up the boys club hiding behind the thin blue line. Then, the state needs to support housing, jobs, and education programs to make sure fewer young people resort to crime. This is about so much more than policing and it sounds like the governor and reps still just don't get that.

Lupe Molina

Also, and rep who says they are going to "take a hard look" or "unpack this issue" are the ones to watch. This is a critical issue, if you're only looking at it now, it's too late. This is the problem with NM legislature having such pathetically short sessions. None of our amateur legislators take the time to understand the economics or sociology of the issues and they don't have time to assemble the experts. We're setting ourselves up for failure year after year.

Khal Spencer

Maybe that's a good reason to wait till next year's 60 day session. In 30 days, I doubt the legislators will even have time to read the bills their lobbyists friends hand them to carry. But I'm not so sure our legislators would be far superior if they met longer. Or as Gideon John Tucker said, "No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session."

Donald Apodaca

Lupe Molina, I agree on all of your points. However, kids that have the 'WARRIOR GENE' need to be tought that if they have thoughts or ideations of killing people they need to join the Navy and attempt to become one of the NavySEALS that serve a tour or two then become "Government Contractors." Those are the type of heros kids need to aspire to be. If you wanna be a BAD GUY work for the GOOD GUYS (LOL). PREPARE for FEDS to prosecute all those dirty politicians in 2022. Watch how many "retire" this year because they are under investigation for being bribed by special intrest groups or criminals themselves. CASH is a poor man's money but dirty politicians like it. Or the gift card payed for with CASH. Solution: eliminate CASH. No credit or debit card NO SERVICE.

Michael Kiley

Before ANY member of the RNC or national Republican party utters ONE word about crime, the person must explain participation in a Racketeering and Corrupt organization for fifty years engaged in wide-scale voter suppression. THAT is a crime.

Donald Apodaca

Michael Kiley, first and foremost let's define the word politics. Politics: Organised crime with an edge.

Barry Rabkin

I want the polices - city, State, and Federal - to deal with the crimes that are actually against the laws rather than activities that you or anyone wants to call a 'crime.'

Khal Spencer

[spam]

Derek Gzaskow

Felon in possession of a firearm, that's the one that surprises me the most, when they are released. Its like saying I'm gonna do it again. lock them up for a minimum of 1 year

Kirk Holmes

1 yr is not even a slap on the wrist - should be a min of 10.

Donald Apodaca

Kirk Holmes, I AGREE one year means county time. Folks do that time standing on their head. It's a vacation. SLEEP- EAT- REPEAT. TEN years FED time will put teeth in the law.

Chris Taylor

Really? Please by all means remove yourself from your existence for one year and let me know how much of your existence is left after that year what happens to your home your car your possessions your job and you wonder why recidivism is so high

I mean seriously do people actually think about this stuff first? It doesn't seem like it

Donald Apodaca

WARNING: If you are a Mexican Cartel member, minon street level drug dealer selling poison to feed your addiction or as a profession your time on the streets is coming to an end. United States Attorney, Fred Federici is going to prosecute you on FED charges. Hopefully, the 2022 legislative session passes a three strikes law as well as a habitual criminal law that has the teeth to put people in prison for LIFE! If you are a drug dealer, money launderer or serial shop lifter it's time to say GOOD BYE to your friends and family. Hopefully, they put money on your books so you can enjoy a nice ramen spread with your hommies. Happy New Year! Let the games begin. This is not a movie or video game it's REAL LIFE!

Chris Taylor

You're right it's not a movie or a video game so why are you acting like it's a movie or video game?

Donald Apodaca

Chris Taylor, I will be back in ABQ-Santa Fe on the 6th. My team and I are going after the Sinaloa Cartel members and their minions. Do you want to help? We need a few good CI'S. -Donald Ernest Apodaca

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