What happens in Albuquerque does not stay in Albuquerque. It affects all of New Mexico — and that’s unfortunate these days, considering the wave of violent crime hitting New Mexico’s largest city.
The shooting death of a University of New Mexico baseball player earlier this month, which was preceded by the shooting death of a mail carrier, which followed a spate of high-profile crimes against children, has proved to be the last straw.
The man accused of killing 23-year-old student Jackson Weller had previous brushes with the law, including being accused of a drive-by shooting in February that resulted in shots being fired close to police officers. After that shooting, despite the request of prosecutors to keep him behind bars, Darian Bashir was released pending trial.
That’s why it was right for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to assign additional state police to Albuquerque to increase street patrols. They had a rough start, with two officer-involved shootings last week at traffic stops gone wrong, but we do believe additional police patrols will decrease crime.
Increased police presence is not all that the crisis requires. Mayor Tim Keller and the Albuquerque Police Department announced last month new ways they would use technology, state-of-the-art investigations and other tools to manage gun violence, treating it as the crisis it is. Albuquerque also is deploying more patrols, including bicycle officers who will be monitoring Nob Hill and other areas along Central Avenue. Police officers are using paralegals to help present more compelling cases so convictions can be obtained. All of these measures are needed.
Albuquerque, which experienced its lowest crime rate in modern history in 2010, saw violent crime increase by 53 percent between 2014 and 2017 and property crime go up 33 percent over that same period, according to a report for the Legislative Finance Committee.
The governor, mayor, police officials, UNM leaders and citizens understand that a violent Albuquerque, where the public feels and is unsafe, hurts both the city and the state. Rather than watch, they are stepping in, attempting to fix what’s wrong — something that previous leaders failed to do. Now, we need to find ways to keep violent and potentially violent criminals behind bars. And that includes both people convicted of crimes and those awaiting trial.
Don’t get us wrong. Unlike some alarmists, we do not believe the reform of New Mexico’s bail bond system needs to be tossed out. The 2016 constitutional amendment that reformed the system is an improvement. Before, petty crooks and low-level offenders who could not afford to pay for release languished behind bars until trial, losing paychecks and falling into debt. Dangerous criminals with plenty of money to post bail or to pay a bondsman to secure release still could get out of jail. Now, they can be kept behind bars.
From our discussions with various representatives of the justice system, however, we believe the tool that assesses a defendant’s risk to the community needs to be reworked. This doesn’t mean changing the constitution, and it likely won’t require rewrites in state law or even additional guidance from the state Supreme Court, which created pretrial detention guidelines.
What does need to happen is for prosecutors in Bernalillo County, judges and others to fine-tune the risk assessment tool, which ranks such things as a defendant’s past convictions, arrests, use of a weapon in committing the crime and other factors. The numbers are added up to try and determine how much of a risk the accused might be; flight risks also can be taken into account.
The current assessment tool doesn’t always work. Bashir — accused of an open count of murder — still only scored a 3 on the current assessment on a scale of 1 to 5, according to news reports. Conceivably, a judge could have released Bashir. He already had been released awaiting trial after the drive-by shooting in February; another previous arrest involving a gun never went to trial. Fortunately, Judge Brett Loveless agreed with prosecutors — this time — that Bashir is too much of a risk to be let out.
Society needs to decide how to make such decisions more common in crimes of violence, especially considering there needs to be a “clear and convincing” standard of evidence presented. The arrest of someone who has used the gun to commit a crime, especially if that weapon was fired at human beings, must be given added weight in determining danger to the community. That is something the Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council could do, with judges, police, prosecutors and others weighing in.
To stop the spiral, make it easier for to keep violent offenders where they can’t hurt the innocent. Target repeat offenders, too, the people responsible for an outsize share of crime. Only then will crime statistics fall, the public be safer and citizens trust the justice system. For all of our sakes, fix the crisis in Albuquerque.