New Mexico’s violent crime rate increased 30 percent between 2014 and 2020.
The rate at which cases are solved hasn’t kept pace.
A forthcoming report by staff at the Legislative Finance Committee found violent crime clearance rates — or the rate at which crimes are closed, generally through arrest — fell 25 percent during the same period.
“Our staff went through 10 years of data from the FBI to look at violent crime rate trends and clearance rate trends, and we found that since 2011, we’ve seen an overall increase in the violent crime rate,” Jon Courtney, the committee’s deputy director for program evaluators, said Tuesday. “But it seems that the violent crime clearance rate … has been trending downwards.”
An offense has been “cleared” when at least one person has been arrested, charged or turned over to the courts for prosecution, according to a 2018 report by the Legislative Finance Committee.
“In that 2018 report, we identify swiftness and certainty and addressing root causes of crime as key for crime reduction,” Courtney said.
The committee is working on a progress report for the 2018 evaluation, which focused on the criminal justice system in Bernalillo County and also found declining clearance rates.
The cause of falling clearance rates is “a question that we still need to figure out,” Courtney said. “We’re currently looking into that [as part of the progress report] and hopefully should have some more insight into why that might be happening come January.”
The state’s violent crime rate eclipsed the clearance rate in 2015, according to the recent analysis.
“Falling violent crime case clearance rates … suggest the state is failing to create the certainty of arrest that research shows is a significant deterrent to crime,” the Legislative Finance Committee wrote in its December newsletter, released Tuesday. “Research suggests more officers deployed in a way that creates the perception the risk of arrest is high helps deter crime.”
But New Mexico has struggled to put more officers on the streets.
“During the period of crime growth between 2014 and 2018, the number of law enforcement officers in New Mexico municipal police departments, county sheriffs’ offices, and state police was essentially stagnant,” the newsletter states.
The report comes as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham plans to push for $100 million in funding during the 30-day legislative session that begins in January to hire an additional 1,000 new law enforcement officers statewide. Lujan Grisham, whose critics have tried to portray her as soft on crime as she seeks reelection next year, said recently she plans to “lean in” during the session on statewide initiatives that affect public safety.
Her public safety secretary, Jason Bowie, said addressing New Mexico’s crime is a major priority.
“We share the concerns of the LFC and New Mexicans at large over the rising violent crime rate, which is unfortunately being seen nationwide,” Bowie said in a statement. He was appointed secretary-designate of the state Department of Public Safety in July.
“Improving public safety for New Mexicans is our mission,” Bowie added, “and the governor and state agencies are working together with law enforcement and criminal justice communities to develop a legislative package to address the staffing shortages referenced during the upcoming legislative session.”