On July 19, 2018, the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (LFC), released a 117 page “Program Evaluation: Review of the Criminal Justice System in Bernalillo County.”
The LFC is chaired by NM State Senator John Author Smith the highly respected State Senator in all things involving legislative funding.
A three-hour presentation was made to the LFC in Santa Fe by the LFC’s Program Evaluation manager Jon Courtney where lawmakers asked questions about the 8-year spike in Albuquerque’s crime rates.
Nonpartisan legislative analyst’s examining Albuquerque’s crime rates came to the conclusion that there are “critical gaps” in the three pillars of the criminal justice system.
The three pillars of the criminal justice system were identified as law enforcement, the courts and the correctional or jail system.
Notwithstanding the “critical gaps” in the criminal justice system, the report gave reasons for optimism.
Reasons for optimism include increased cooperation among law enforcement public agencies, more traffic stops initiated by police and a new re-entry center to help inmates released back into society from jail.
Economic conditions are also improving and the State’s unemployment rate is declining.
ALBUQUERQUE’S DECLINING CRIME RATES
Adding to the optimism is that 2018 is becoming the first time in 8 years that Albuquerque’s property crime rates are falling.
On the same day of the Legislative hearing releasing the Criminal Justice in Bernalillo County Review report, Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Michael Geier held a press conference to announce that auto theft and robberies for the first half of 2018 are down significantly from 2017 the same time last year.
Chief Geier credited APD officers for a 35 percent increase in traffic stops and progress in reducing auto burglary by 31 percent, auto theft by 16 percent, commercial burglary by 16 percent, residential burglary by 7 percent, robbery by 31 percent, rape by 4 percent and aggravated assault by 5 percent.
The bad news was that according to the FBI statistics released by Keller and Geier, nonfatal shootings increased by 5% and homicides increased by 18.2% the first 6 months of 2018 over 2017.
The city’s crime rate has been decreasing since November, 2017.
DISCREDITING DISTRICT ATTORNEY RAUL TORREZ
One thing that happened worth noting during the presentation to lawmaker’s is that the 2010-17 spike in crime was not caused by New Mexico’s new rules on bail, a Supreme Court order imposing deadline for handling criminal cases or the new “risk assessment tool” used by the courts to determine which defendants should be released while they await trial.
Least anyone forget, it was Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez who made front page headlines last year that it was the Courts that caused the spike in crime.
Torrez made false claims that because of lenient Judge’s sentencings, the crime rate increased and was caused by New Mexico’s new rules on bail and the Courts were demanding too much evidence to hold violent criminals.
Torrez was highly critical of a Supreme Court order imposing deadline for handling criminal cases and the new “risk assessment tool” used by the courts.
DA Torrez went so far as to say that the criminal justice system was broken and that defense lawyers were “gaming the system” to get their client’s off on technicalities.
The Review of the Criminal Justice System Report found that the increase in crime started years before many of the court rule changes were even implemented, thereby discrediting many if not all of DA Torrez’s arguments.
SOCIAL PROBLEMS INCREASING CRIME RATES
The study found that in 2010, Albuquerque had its lowest crime rates in modern history.
The report focused on the link between broader social problems and crime rates.
Albuquerque’s downtown area is the highest-crime area in the state.
The Downtown area of Albuquerque from Broadway Boulevard to 8th Street and Lomas Boulevard to Coal Avenue experienced a 46 percent increase in the number of families in poverty between 2010 and 2016.
Families living in poverty was cited as part of the reason why crime is five times the national average in that area.
According to the study, by 2016, more than 20 percent of people in Albuquerque lived in high-poverty neighborhoods.
That number was less than 3 percent in 2010.
Further, 21 percent of all felony arrests involve people who had been arrested five or more times before.
DETERIORATING SOCIAL CONDITIONS
The LFC report notes that deteriorating social conditions and other flaws in the criminal justice system outlined coincided with the Bernalillo County’s crime wave.
The LFC study found that while crime increased, arrests and convictions were down.
It was in 2010 that the number of sworn APD police officers began to seriously decline.
At the beginning of 2010, APD had 1,100 sworn police officers and over the following 8 years, the department bottomed out to as few as 830 sworn officers at one time, with less than have in field services taking calls for service.
Based on data reviewed, at the beginning of the crime wave in 2011, Albuquerque endured worsening poverty, homelessness and drug use, and at the same time Albuquerque had fewer police patrolling the streets to make arrests.
According to the LFC report:
“As social conditions deteriorated, the criminal justice system held fewer and fewer people accountable while crimes continued to increase.”
THE DOJ CONSENT DECREE AND REFORMS
The Review of the Criminal Justice System Report makes a specific finding that from 2010 to 2017 “the Albuquerque Police Department, the judicial system, and the Metropolitan Detention Center all suffered from problematic – and in some cases unconstitutional – practices.”
The “unconstitutional practices” referred to no doubt is the “culture of aggression” found within APD by the US Department of Justice.
It was in early 2013 that the Department of Justice began its investigation of APD for excessive use of force and deadly force cases after 18 people were shot and killed by APD.
In April, 2014 the US Department of Justice issued its final report finding a “culture of aggression” within APD.
It was in November, 2014 that the City of Albuquerque entered into a Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) and agreed to sweeping reforms of APD mandating constitutional policing practices and major changes in standard operating procedures dealing with the use of force and deadly force.
According to the Criminal Justice System Report, the U.S. Department of Justice settlement with the city requiring a series of reforms aimed at ending a pattern of violating people’s rights by APD may have contributed in part to increases in crime rates.
The Criminal Justice System Report did review other cities across the country that have entered into similar consent decrees and it was found that crime increased for a year or two before returning to typical levels.
The report found that Albuquerque is experiencing a similar pattern of crime rate deduction but it isn’t clear whether changes in police tactics, increased reporting of crime or other factors drive the change.
The federal consent decree was negotiated by the previous administration over 3 years ago.
It was found repeatedly by the federal court appointed monitor that the previous administration did everything it could to subvert, delay and deflect implementation of the mandatory reforms.
Eight months after a new Mayor is elected and he appoints a Chief of Police and both who are committed to the DOJ reforms, property crime rates are indeed going down.
The Legislative Finance Report and review found “a system that suffers from critical gaps between reality and the best practices of law enforcement, jurisprudence, and incarceration.”
The Criminal Justice System Report makes a number of recommendations including:
1. Establishing statewide requirements for how defendants are handled before trial and removing legal barriers that prevent criminal justice agencies from sharing data with one another.
2. Bernalillo County should also continue efforts at connecting inmates leaving jail with services. Inmates were sometimes released late at night in the heart of Downtown.
3. Albuquerque police should make better use of their Real Time Crime Center to analyze trends and engage in proactive policing strategies.
4. The number of people graduating from specialty courts like the drug court and veterans court aimed at reducing recidivism among people struggling with addiction has fallen and the state should try to reverse the trend.
There are three main takeaways that appear very clear when you read the report:
FIRST: The City of Albuquerque and APD would be further down the road in decreasing crime rates had it not been for the tactics by the previous administration to subvert, delay and deflect implementation of the DOJ mandated reforms.
SECOND: District Attorney Raul Torrez was totally wrong when he blamed the Second Judicial District Court and the Supreme Courts Case Management Order (CMO) for the spike in crime in Albuquerque.
THREE: The “Program Evaluation: Review of the Criminal Justice System in Bernalillo County” needs to be read by New Mexico State Auditor Wayne Johnson so he can save face and abandon his efforts for a “Special Audit” of the Bernalillo County Criminal Justice system and before he is embarrassed by Attorney General Hector Balderas. Johnson’s special audit includes seven state agencies: the District Court, Metro Court, the Albuquerque Police Department, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, the Metropolitan Detention Center, the Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office. Balderas has been asked by the District Court to issue an opinion if Johnson has the legal authority to do his audit and the legislative report seems to render moot the need for the audit.
POSTSCRIPT: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY KEY RECOMMENDATIONS
Following are the key recommendations contained in the executive summary of the Program Evaluation: Review of the Criminal Justice System in Bernalillo County report (pages 2 and 3):
“The Legislature should consider legislation:
To minimize financial burden for specialty court participants;
The Legislature should consider legislation establishing basic requirements around the use of pretrial services statewide including best practices recommended by agencies cited in this report;
The Legislature should consider legislation that encourages sharing and removes barriers around criminal justice data while still complying with data protections put in place by the Federal government.
APD and BCSO should:
Direct officers to spend uncommitted time using tactics from evidence-based policing strategies focusing on people, hot spots, and problems identified through use of analytical tools such as the Real Time Crime Center. Tool kits for selection of which practices and programs to use in certain tactical environments can be found at the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy
APD and BCSO should implement up to date police staffing studies and APD should put tracking systems to monitor progress to meeting staffing goals.
Priority should be given to staffing field services and specific specialized units of detectives to work towards improving clearance rates of key crimes and decrease drug trafficking. Bernalillo County, 2nd Judicial District Court, and Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court should implement pretrial services universal screening, performance management system, and quarterly reporting to BCCJCC to guide policy and management decisions.
The Administrative Office of the Courts should increase current oversight efforts to include adopting and reporting on evaluation requirements for all specialty courts.
The Administrative Office of the Courts, the Law Office of the Public Defender, the SJDA’s Office, the 2nd Judicial District Court, and Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court should explore specialty court options that could increase utilization of these courts. Bernalillo County should work to implement procedures that facilitate successful release of inmates into the community including the following components:
• Amend their contract with their behavioral health service provider to include requirements to implement a valid and reliable risk needs assessment and screening to be universally administered to inmates at intake. The requirement should also include transmission of this information to staff at the resource reentry center for use upon release;
• Work to increase the number of inmates released during business hours;
• Making key staff at the resource reentry center and MDC available on a 24 hour basis to facilitate connection of former inmates to resources including prescription medication and transportation;
• Defining, measuring and promoting use of evidence-based (and promising) programming in jails, prisons, and the community while still allowing room for home grown innovative and effective programs.
• Develop improved performance measures for the Metropolitan Detention Center including recidivism, percent of inmates signed up for Medicaid, and percent of inmates connected to services upon reentry.
The Bernalillo Health Science Department (BHSD) should continually work with stakeholders to identify and address Medicaid reimbursement needs for evidence-based behavioral health treatment programs. Bernalillo County and the City of Albuquerque should consider permanently staffing the BCCJCC, including data analysts, in order to provide additional support to criminal justice partners. The BCCJCC should
• Develop a set of performance metrics to better track the Bernalillo County criminal justice system performance;
• Foster the use of evidence-based practices throughout the Bernalillo County criminal justice system;
• Coordinate unified use of resources including the real time crime center at APD to work toward common goals of focusing on people and places through evidence-based practices