New Mexico governor announces public safety proposals for upcoming legislative session

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  • Michelle Lujan Grisham
    Michelle Lujan Grisham
    American politician

Jan. 14—Amid rising rates of gun violence and other crime statewide, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday a series of public safety proposals lawmakers will introduce in the upcoming legislative session — a package that includes harsher penalties, bond reform and funds to boost law enforcement.

"Every time that we talk about a violent crime, a homicide, any crime for public safety at all, there is a New Mexican who was the victim," she said at new conference in Albuquerque, where she was joined by Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, Attorney General Hector Balderas, District Attorney Raúl Torrez and state lawmakers.

"If you're asking if this is a 'tough on crime' press announcement, make no mistake this is a 'tough on and prevent crime' press announcement with New Mexico's leaders particularly in that space," the governor added.

Her comments came hours after Albuquerque police announced detectives had begun investigations into three separate homicides in a 10-hour span: a fatal shooting at a home, a man found dead in a motel and a body discovered in an alley behind a business.

But, Lujan Grisham said, "This is not just an Albuquerque issue. This is a state issue. This is a neighborhood-by-neighborhood, community-by-community issue. New Mexico can and will do better."

The governor's proposed package includes:

* Imposing a "rebuttable presumption," which Lujan Grisham said would shift the burden from prosecutors to defendants accused of murder, gun crimes, rape and other sex crimes, forcing them to prove they do not pose a danger to the community before they are released from jail while awaiting their trial.

* Removing the statute of limitations for second-degree murder and increasing the penalty to 18 years from 15.

* Increasing penalties for a range of gun crimes.

Lujan Grisham also aims to allocate

$100 million to "support and strengthen New Mexico law enforcement agencies" by creating more funds for hiring and retaining officers and civilian staff.

Law enforcement and government officials in the city and county of Santa Fe, which have seen some of their highest rates of violent crime in the last decade, say the governor's crime package is welcome — but includes just a few ways the issue should be addressed through legislation.

"We're seeing more of those crimes that involve weapons and guns, and more violent crimes where people are sustaining more serious injuries," Santa Fe police interim Chief Paul Joye said. "Anything that can be a deterrent for that, that's a positive for us.

"But it's one aspect of a larger community and state issue to fix these problems," he added.

Joye said programs such as the city's Alternative Response Unit, which responds to calls involving people in need of behavioral health support and social services, also have an immense effect on violent crime.

Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said the governor's crime package would create assurance that communities in New Mexico "hold people accountable" and have the teeth to do so.

"We are really happy to see lot of the initiatives that she brought forward ... and she mentioned Albuquerque is not the only place that's experiencing this, but that pretty much drives the tempo across the state," Valdez said.

New Mexico's violent crime rate increased 30 percent between 2014 and 2020, according to a report from the Legislative Finance Committee, while the violent crime clearance rate, or the rate at which crimes were solved, fell 25 percent during the same period.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said he believes there is a need for tougher penalties and supports the governor's initiatives "100 percent."

He also welcomed her proposal for funds to hire more personnel.

"We need law enforcement presence on the streets, and we need people qualified to do the job," he said.

Lujan Grisham also proposed a 20 percent pay increase for New Mexico State Police, according to her budget recommendations.

Mendoza said while he supports the "long-overdue" increase for state officers, he hopes the remaining funds will allow smaller departments to remain competitive.

Mayor Alan Webber said any action by the state to help staff the city's department is a benefit.

"As a mayor, anything we can do that gets support for more law enforcement personnel and public safety officers, I think that will make a significant difference for Santa Fe," he said.

When it comes to harsher penalties for crimes, Webber said he supports any effort to reduce gun violence, but he added legislation is only one avenue.

"If we can take any measures that reduce access to and the use of firearms by the hands of someone who's going to commit a crime, I think that's a good thing," he said.

Defense attorneys, public defenders and other critics have raised concerns the governor's bond reform proposal would give prosecutors more power to detain people.

Bennett Baur, the state's chief public defender, said in a statement that evidence shows people on pretrial release are not a significant cause of the increase in violent crime and incarcerating more people before trial will further harm New Mexico communities.

"I'm concerned that the focus is all on police, prosecutors and punishment, and seems to ignore the effects that the proposals would have on the courts, public defenders, jails and prisons and on what happens when anyone accused of a crime is eventually released," he said.

Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe, said she supports the governor's crime package, but she also hopes the governor and Legislature ensure a comprehensive approach to violence in the upcoming session.

"We need to really confront this in a holistic way — what's going on and what we call crime — and really come at this place of reform and really looking at the behavioral health and addiction issues that we have right now," Lujan said.

"They're looking for harsher penalties. They're coming down harder on a lot of these things," she added. "I can understand that if they're gonna substantiate those bills with others addressing these other baseline issues."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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