ALBUQUERQUE — U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Operation Triple Beam — a joint federal, state, local and regional law enforcement initiative that took place over the past 90 days — resulted in the arrest of 327 violent criminals in New Mexico, including 92 people in the Santa Fe and Farmington communities.
Surrounded by at least 30 law enforcement officials from across the state, Barr appeared Tuesday at the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office in Albuquerque to tout Operation Triple Beam as “one of the most important tools in our attack on violent crime.”
He cited an increase in drug production and use, particularly methamphetamine and fentanyl, as the main reason people commit violent crimes in New Mexico.
“Part of the violence we see … is a narcotics problem,” he said.
Of the 327 people arrested, 91 faced narcotics charges, 10 were wanted on homicide charges, 20 had weapons charges, 13 were wanted in connection with sex crimes, and 35 turned out to be “certified gang members,” U.S. Marshals Service Director Donald Washington said.
The operation, led by U.S. marshals, also recovered 31 stolen vehicles and seized more than 50 pounds of methamphetamine and 43 illegal firearms.
“We took a lot of bad guys out of your community,” Washington said.
New Mexico’s crime rate has drawn national attention. According to 2018 FBI statistics, the state’s rate of 857 violent crimes per 100,000 residents is the second highest in the nation. Barr said Albuquerque, where most of Operation Triple Beam was conducted, has a violent crime rate that is 3.7 times the national average.
“Unfortunately the [criminal justice] system in New Mexico is subpar,” Barr said, citing another reason for federal involvement. “It’s not doing its job of keeping dangerous criminals off the street.”
The problem, Barr said, is the state’s judicial system fails to detain suspects before trial and releases them back into the community, where they intimidate witnesses or people who might want to come forward to report crimes.
Sonya Chavez, U.S. marshal for New Mexico, said the 90-day arrest sweep is “indicative of what we do every day,” adding “the momentum will only increase” as law enforcement agencies work together to keep the pressure on fugitives.
She said no law enforcement personnel were hurt in the operation.
Barr’s visit to New Mexico came two weeks after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the creation of a Fugitive Apprehension Unit, which will be responsible for finding people charged with violent crimes who have failed to appear in court.
Authorities say this unit will help reduce the more than 1,600 outstanding bench warrants for people charged with violent crimes.
Lujan Grisham says the unit will be made up of at least seven state police officers and at least seven state Corrections Department staffers.