By Robert Nott The Santa Fe New Mexican
Lawmakers looking to push through an array of “tough on crime” bills got some legislative ammunition to support their cause this week.
The Legislative Finance Committee released a memo to Rep. Patti Lundstrom, chair of the committee, saying violent crime rates are going up, and not just in Albuquerque.
The memo says at least 20 New Mexico communities — including Gallup and Albuquerque — have experienced increases in violent crimes.
Santa Fe was not among those cities.
The LFC document says Albuquerque’s 2021 homicide rate of 117 killings represented an “acute rise” from 2020 — a 48 percent jump.
And New Mexico State Police investigated 17 homicides in 2021, up from 10 in 2020.
The memo’s sobering details include that the reasons behind Albuquerque’s homicide rates have drastically changed over the past year. In 2019 just 15 percent of those killings happened through robberies or because of “personal disrespect.”
In 2021, that rate was 65 percent.
Some of those killings are a result of what the memo calls “drug rips,” where a dealer and buyer make an online agreement for a sale and then the buyer shoots the dealer in an effort to steal the drugs.
The LFC memo came a day before Gov. Michelle Grisham Lujan gave her State of the State address in which she spoke of imposing “tougher penalties on the worst of the worst, the repeat offenders” who continue to commit violent acts when released.
She also said she wants to enact tougher laws to keep violent offenders in jail until they are tried, an initiative Republican and Democratic lawmakers seem unified on this year.
Currently, defendants who allegedly committed felonies are only eligible for pretrial detention if a prosecutor files a motion to keep them behind bars and can prove they are a threat to the community. The judge has the ultimate say.
Proposed legislation already making its way through the session would require defendants to prove they are not a threat if released. But the judge would still make the final decision.
The memo says there is little evidence to prove current bail reform measures are driving the violent crime rate.
Using 2017-2021 data from the Bernalillo County judicial system, it says 95 percent of defendants “did not pick up violent charges on pretrial release.”
However, just over 13 percent of those defendants did commit nonviolent crimes while on release.
Keeping those defendants jailed before their trial could cost taxpayers about $2 million more per year and lead to prolonged detention time for defendants who may be found not guilty, according to the memo.
Speaking about the possibility of pretrial release terms being changed this session, New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Vigil said Monday he would only ask that “any debates that take place be based upon verified data and not emotion.”