In 2018, 20% of Albuquerque-area homicides were related to domestic violence. This year, there have been 19 homicides or 14% of 65 homicide cases that were related to domestic violence.
Within the last few weeks, APD has arrested 39 individuals with warrants for domestic violence including for battery against a household member, battery with a deadly weapon, criminal sexual penetration and child abuse. Upwards to half arrested by APD are considered “habitual domestic violence offenders” or individuals who have been charged with or convicted of domestic violence offenses in the past.
On October 2, 2019, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) along with Attorney General Hector Balderas announced plans to collaborate with others in an effort to prevent, investigate and prosecute New Mexico’s domestic violence cases, which are major contributors to deadly violence. The new initiative will target repeat offenders. APD is seeking help from city officials, the Office of the Attorney General, state senators and local nonprofit organizations that help victims of domestic violence.
For his part, Attorney General Hector Balderas promised to prosecute domestic violence offenders quickly and said his office will start implementing statewide multidisciplinary domestic violence training for law enforcement officers. By working along with partners, Balderas said, he hopes people charged with domestic violence offenses won’t be able to cheat the system any more, which he said happens frequently.
REQUIRING DOMESTIC ABUSERS TO SURRENDER FIREARMS
The 2019 New Mexico Legislature passed Senate Bill 328 which prohibits gun possession by someone who’s subject to an order of protection under the Family Violence Protection Act. The bill was jointly sponsored by Democratic Senators Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque and Democratic Representative Deborah Armstrong of Albuquerque.
Under the enacted legislation domestic abusers must surrender their firearms to law enforcement. The gun possession prohibition also applies to people convicted of other crimes. State Representative Debra Armstrong had this to say in support of the legislation:
“When a gun is present in a situation of domestic violence, it is five times more likely that a woman will be killed.”
NEW MEXICO RANKS 10TH HIGHEST IN COUNTRY FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Representative Armstrong was not exaggerating given New Mexico’s domestic violence crisis.
On September 16, 2017, according to an annual study published by the Violence Policy Center, it was reported women are more likely to be killed by men in New Mexico than nearly any other states.
The study found the state has the 10th-highest rate of women killed by men, marking the third straight year New Mexico had appeared toward the top of the list, while New Mexico’s overall homicide rate ranked lower.
A New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee study described New Mexico’s response to domestic violence as fragmented and uncoordinated. The Legislative Finance Committee report also highlighted the judiciary’s inability to provide effective oversight of domestic violence offenders.
Battery on a household member is a misdemeanor but the magistrate courts and the metro court which handle misdemeanor cases have limited ability to monitor offenders serving probation for domestic violence.
The report found that New Mexico spends little on treatment programs for domestic violence offenders and has little evidence of the effectiveness of those programs. The study counted 16 women killed by men in New Mexico during 2015, the most recent year for which data was are available at the time.
The rate of 1.52 victims per 100,000 women is higher than the national rate of 1.12. Nearly all the woman killed were by someone they knew. Most of the killings were not connected to any other felony. Half followed arguments between the victim and her killer.
New Mexico has ranked among the top 10 states with the highest rates of women killed by men during the last decade. The Violence Policy Center promotes gun control and found that each state at the top of the list of women killed by men have a high rate of firearm ownership which no doubt includes New Mexico’s gun culture.
Children exposed to domestic violence often come from broken homes and live in poverty. Study after study reveal that domestic violence involving children usually results in the child growing up with mental health problems and become an abuser of their own children and spouse.
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COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Bringing down violent crime involving guns, such as murders and domestic violence, is always more difficult because of issues such as inadequate mental health care and substance abuse problems. Domestic violence is clearly the most difficult category to bring down when it comes to violent crime because of the “cycle of violence” involved with such crimes.
All too often in domestic violence cases, the abused decline to charge and prosecute and return to their partner or spouse with the “cycle of violence” continuing. New Mexico has ranked among the top 10 states with the highest rates of women killed by men during the last decade.
Years ago, early on in my legal career, as an Assistant District Attorney, I was assigned to the violent crime’s division and prosecuted murders and rape cases, and even reviewed child abuse cases. Years later, as Chief Deputy District Attorney for Bernalillo County, I had supervisory authority over all the felony divisions, including the Violent Crimes Division and the Domestic Violence Division.
What I learned as Chief Deputy District Attorney is that Albuquerque’s dirty little secret is that domestic violence is the number-one reason why a woman is admitted to the emergency room of the University of New Mexico Hospital. Statics in Albuquerque showed that after about the 10th or 11th time there is a call out of the Albuquerque Police Department to a home for domestic violence, it is usually to pick a woman up in a body bag.
Studies reveal that domestic violence involving children usually results in the child growing up and become an abuser of their own children and spouse. Children exposed to domestic violence often come from broken homes and poverty.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Domestic Violence Division had three of the most seasoned and most skilled trial attorneys in the office. The Domestic Violence Division had some of the highest caseloads in the office between 150 and 200 active pending cases and one of the highest conviction rates.
One major initiative then Bernalillo County District Attorney Jeff Romero order me to implement as Chief Deputy District Attorney was the “Target Abuser Call” prosecution team, known as the TAC team, in Metro Court. The program was modelled after the Chicago’s District Attorneys Office. District Attorney Jeff Romero assigned 2 experienced prosecutors, an investigator, a victim advocate and they reviewed all domestic violence APD reports filed and initiated charges in Metro Court. Within a year, the TAC team had a 98% conviction rate.
The TAC Unit was long ago abolished. Currently, there is no Domestic Violence Division at the Bernalillo District Attorney office and domestic violence cases are spread out over the entire office. Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez should follow the lead of APD and Attorney General Hector Balderas and reinstate the Domestic Violence Unit and the Tac Unit within the Bernalillo county District Attorney’s Office.
Albuquerque and New Mexico must find solutions to what contributes to the most horrific crimes: domestic violence, substance abuse, children living in severe poverty, a poor education system, the breakdown of the family unit, the failures of our social services and child protective services, a failed mental health system, an ineffective criminal justice system, and a failing economy.