SANTA FE — The certainty of justice in New Mexico has slipped over a recent seven-year stretch as arrests have declined and violent crime has increased, analysts for the US Legislative Assembly warned Wednesday. ‘State.
The number of violent crimes, for example, increased by about 32% from 2014 to 2020 while arrests for violent crimes fell by 32%, according to a study shared with lawmakers.
Analysts working for the Legislative Finance Committee – a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers – have also suggested the “speed of justice” may be slowing. The average time it takes to complete a criminal case increased in fiscal year 2021, they said, compared to the previous two years.
The researchers presented their findings at a meeting with lawmakers in Silver City and urged lawmakers to avoid blaming any particular agency or component of the criminal justice system, given the uncertainty about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and data reporting delays. .
But they characterized the drop in arrests and slowing criminal proceedings as a dual challenge New Mexico faces as it battles some of the highest violent crime rates in the nation.
Leading lawmakers have welcomed the analysis by acknowledging that pouring more money into the system is not necessarily the answer.
“We need to have an honest conversation in order to resolve the issue,” said Sen. George Muñoz, Democrat of Gallup and chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, during Wednesday’s hearing.
He urged the law enforcement and criminal justice representatives present at the meeting to make direct assessments of how they can better collaborate and strengthen the weak points in the system.
Lawmakers also heard reasons for optimism. Legislative analysts said New Mexico’s violent crime rate has fallen since 2019 and property crimes have fallen since 2017, though both remain above the national average.
Jason Bowie, New Mexico’s public safety secretary, said police retirement has slowed “a bit” and numbers have increased enough that his agency’s police force can reach pre-war levels. pandemic by the end of the year.
He asked lawmakers to keep officers in mind when passing laws and be careful not to make it difficult for them.
Increasing the number of police officers in New Mexico has been a long-standing goal of lawmakers, mayors and other elected officials, Democrats and Republicans alike. A visible police presence and more officers are key parts of the state’s strategy to deter crime by bolstering “certainty of justice,” as legislative analysts put it.
But in the 10-year period ending in June 2021, the number of certified officers employed by cities, counties and the state only increased by 1.8%, according to LFC research.
“Every agency needs more officers, more deputies,” Damon Martinez, chief political adviser for the city of Albuquerque and former U.S. district attorney for New Mexico, told lawmakers.
Lawmakers have authorized an influx of new public safety spending this year.
This year’s state budget includes approximately $43 million in ongoing funding to cover 15.9 percent pay increases for state police, increased oversight of defendants awaiting trial, the increasing judges’ salaries and other public safety efforts.
Another one-time funding of $177 million was approved to improve the behavioral health services network, recruit and retain officers, and expand violence prevention programs.
“We believe we are currently in a better position to recruit from out of state,” Bowie told lawmakers.
State Representative Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, said she was thrilled to see the city of Albuquerque start a new department with civilians to help respond to mental health calls. Other changes – including laws to crack down on “hash shops” that handle stolen vehicles – will need time to demonstrate their effectiveness.
“Nothing happens overnight,” Dixon said.