A plan to combat domestic terror in New Mexico

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe, flanked by San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, speaks Wednesday at the Roundhouse following a domestic terrorism summit. Gabriela Campos/The New Mexican

New Mexico’s governor, key lawmakers and members of law enforcement announced Wednesday they will pursue several initiatives to improve the state’s ability to prevent hate crimes and domestic terrorism.

The proposals include increasing penalties for hate crimes, improving mental health care, proposing additional gun safety legislation and creating a state counterterrorism unit.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Attorney General Hector Balderas and legislative leadership made the announcements at a domestic terrorism summit at the Roundhouse, organized to discuss efforts to prevent mass violence in the state after the shooting that killed 22 people in El Paso earlier this month.

The Legislature’s interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee will be examining the initiatives in the coming months so they can be proposed in the next legislative session, said House Speaker Brian Egolf.

“We want to work together to ensure New Mexicans that we will do everything in our power to make us safer,” Lujan Grisham said.

El Paso’s proximity to the state, as well as an anti-immigrant screed written by its perpetrator, have sparked concerns a similar attack could occur in New Mexico, where the population is 48 percent Hispanic.

At a news conference after the summit, the governor said state officials have not received any information suggesting New Mexico is more at risk of mass violence than any other part of the country.

“I can provide that reassurance,” she said. “But after saying that, there are real threats in this country.”

Summit attendees heard from experts from the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Santa Fe Institute and local law enforcement. The governor also attended a classified briefing with the FBI.

Balderas said New Mexico needs to strengthen human rights statutes in state law as well as increase the penalties for hate crimes. The state might also change its definition of domestic terrorism, Lujan Grisham said.

Officials also want to expand behavioral health services so interventions can be more easily performed in cases of high-risk youth, the governor said, adding she wants to improve the way law enforcement agencies share data about hate groups and extremism.

A statewide counterterrorism unit that would have specialists analyzing data about potential threats could be created, she said.

Egolf, D-Santa Fe, had previously called for a special legislative session to discuss creating such a unit. That plan appears to have been scrapped in favor of waiting until the next legislative session.

“I think that’s where we are,” the governor said when asked if the proposal would be saved for January.

The governor reiterated she will again push to pass a bill that would allow for “extreme risk protection orders,” which would let police obtain a court order to remove guns from people considered dangerous. A similar bill was passed by the House in the last legislative session but wasn’t taken up in the Senate.

“Given what happened in our country, in Ohio and Texas, we have a renewed effort to make sure we get that legislation right,” Lujan Grisham said of the so-called red-flag legislation.

Some New Mexico sheriffs have said they are concerned that bill would deprive citizens of due process by taking away their weapons when they haven’t committed a crime.

Two sheriffs, Jerry Hogrefe of Taos County and Shane Ferrari of San Juan County, attended Wednesday’s meeting and spoke alongside the governor at the news conference.

Ferrari opposed background check legislation signed by the governor earlier this year, yet expressed a willingness to work with the governor on the ideas discussed at the summit.

“We look forward to being at the table more and coming up with some solutions and making New Mexico the safest place we can,” Ferrari said.

Members of the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association have been meeting with state Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, to modify the “extreme risk protection order” legislation.

Despite all the ideas presented at the summit, attendees were clear potential threats won’t be easy to neutralize.

“This is not a situation where we’re going to be able to pass laws and arrest our way out of,” Hogrefe said. “This is something that will require education.”

Reporter

Jens Erik Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.