On November 11, 2019, United States Attorney General William Barr flew into little old Albuquerque all the way from Washington, DC to bless us all with his presence just to do us all big favor and hold a very short press conference to announce he was saving us from ourselves. The news conference was held in the main conference room on the 4th floor of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) main offices. The conference room is literally separated by a door to a hallway to APD Chief Michael Geier and his Deputy Chief offices, yet they were not extended invitations to attend the press conference.
OPERATION TRIPLE BEAM
The purpose of the afternoon press conference was to announce the conclusion of a three-month fugitive apprehension operation. AG Barr also pledged continuing efforts to attack violent crime in Albuquerque.
Barr labeled the joint law enforcement initiative as “Operation Triple Beam”. It was a 90-day campaign that ended Oct. 31. According to Barr, Operation Triple Beam” was seen as “preparing the field for these efforts that will be coming in the weeks ahead”. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is targeting Albuquerque and other cities with the highest crime rates around the country by taking action against felony fugitives. Operation Triple Beam began in 2011. It has already been executed in the cities of Salinas, California, Wichita, Kansas, Roanoke, Virginia, Montgomery, Alabama and Houston, Texas.
According to news reports, Barr was blunt when he said:
“I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone here that New Mexico and Albuquerque specifically are experiencing a violent crime crisis. … Unlike many cities in the United States that have seen violent crime rates fall, the violent crime rates in Albuquerque remain stubbornly high. … In the months ahead, the federal government is going to be stepping up our efforts to work closely with our state and local partners to ratchet up the attacks on violent crime.” Saying violent crime is down in many cities and states throughout the U.S, Barr blamed New Mexico criminal laws as weak and saying people suspected of violent crimes often walk out of jail right after they’re arrested.
U.S. Marshals Service Director Donald Washington said for his part the goal of “Operation Triple Beam” in Albuquerque was:
“to target gang-related fugitives fueling the violent crime. The objective was to take the worst of the worst off the streets of your city. … At the end of the operation, we worked collaboratively with our federal, state and local partners to identify high priority targets as we focused on the worst of the worst.”
According to the United States Attorney’ Office for New Mexico, “Operation Triple Beam” resulted in 327 people being arrested on state, local or federal warrants, including 59 absconders from probation and parole, 10 people wanted on homicide warrants, 20 people wanted for weapons offenses, 13 for sex crimes, 50 for assault and 91 on narcotics charges. It was not made clear on what charges 84 were arrested.
A few months ago, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office conducted six patrol saturation operations in the Southeast Heights as part of the effort. By all reports it was a success. The operations drew severe criticism from some in the community at the time. The BCSO operation was conducted at the direction of Sheriff Manny Gonzales and were not conducted in coordination with the Albuquerque Police Department.
BARR ATTACKS NEW MEXICO CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
When discussing what drives violent crime in Albuquerque and New Mexico, Barr said:
“[New Mexico has] very weak law enforcement systems. Statewide, judges have ordered the pretrial detention of more than 2,000 people charged with felony crimes during the past two years. … Without bail reform, those dangerous defendants could have quickly returned to the streets by buying a money bond.” Apparently, AG Barr was attacking the bail bond reform enacted 3 years ago by New Mexico voters.”
NEW MEXICO BAIL BOND REFORM
On November 8, 2016, the “New Mexico Denial of Bail Measure” was approved by New Mexico voters by a landslide vote.
The Constitutional Amendment amended the New Mexico Constitution to change the conditions under which a defendant can be denied bail and not released from custody pending trial. The Constitutional Amendment was designed to retain the right to pretrial release for “non-dangerous” defendants.
Before passage of the amendment, a defendant’ s bail and release from jail pending trial on charges could be denied:
1. Only for a defendant charged with a capital felony, or
2. A defendant has two or more felony convictions or
3. A defendant is accused of a felony involving the use of a deadly weapon if the defendant has a felony conviction in New Mexico.
The adopted amendment changed these requirements, allowing bail to be denied to a defendant who has been charged with a felony only if the prosecutor can prove to a judge that the defendant poses “a threat to the public.”
The adopted amendment also provides that a defendant who is not a danger to the community or a flight risk cannot be denied bail solely because of the defendant’s financial inability to post a money or property bond.
The final vote was 87.23%, with 616,887 voting YES and 12.77%, with 90,293 voting NO.
The 2016 bail bond reform is now under serious attack. Many, including Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez, make the argument that the bond reform went to far and that it is too difficult for prosecutors to prove that a defendant poses “a threat to the public” resulting in the court’s having no option but to release defendants until pending trial.
GOVERNOR CREATES FUGITIVE APPREHENSION UNIT
AG Barr apparently thinks Trump’s US Department of Justice are the only ones capable of apprehending fugitives and that New Mexico law enforcement and elected officials do not know what they are dealing with, something that shows his ignorance.
On October 30, 2019, in part because of the success of the New Mexico State Police surge in Albuquerque in May, which resulted in 738 arrests for felony or misdemeanor warrants, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered the creation of the “Fugitive Apprehension Unit” to apprehend hundreds of criminal defendant’s across New Mexico who have not shown up for court hearings or wanted on bench warrants.
The Fugitive Apprehension Unit will consist of State Police officers and state Corrections Department staffers. The unit will work with local law enforcement officials around New Mexico to track down and arrest people charged with committing violent crimes. According to the New Mexico Administrative Office of the District Attorneys, there are more than 1,600 outstanding bench warrants for people charged with violent crimes.
Governor Lujan Grisham created the Fugitive Apprehension Unit by executive order. The unit will be made up of 7 State Police officers and 7 Corrections Department staffers. Everyone team member must have a clean background with no significant disciplinary actions. Team members will be selected from different parts of the state in an effort to avoid affecting day-to-day operations. The unit will be required to make monthly reports to the Governor’s Office documenting its arrests. The executive order also instructs other executive branch state agencies to cooperate with the special law enforcement unit by providing requested information and assistance.
In announcing the “Fugitive Apprehension Unit”, Governor Lujan Grisham had this to say:
“Our justice system is undermined when people accused of serious criminal offenses evade prosecution. We need to explore every avenue for increasing public safety in New Mexico; we need to be smart on crime while being tough on crime. By deploying these resources in a targeted fashion and continuing to work hand in hand with local jurisdictions, the state can make meaningful strides toward reducing crime in our communities and ensuring high-profile violent individuals are brought into the judicial process.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
During his press conference, Barr was surrounded in a packed conference room by dozens of states, federal and local law enforcement officials, including BCSO Sherriff Manny Gonzales who also spoke. Conspicuously absent were District Attorney Raul Torrez, APD Chief Michael Geier and his Deputy Chiefs, Mayor Tim Keller, the Chief of the New Mexico State Police Tim Johnson and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
It turns out that DA Torrez, Mayor Keller, Chief Geier, the NM State Police Chief and the Governor were not even given the courtesy of an invitation to the press conference. What is surprising is the location of the press conference being held at the APD main office headquarters building at 5th and Marquette where BCSO offices are also located. The United States Department of Justice and the offices of the United States Attorney for New Mexico have “Class A Office” space in Downtown Albuquerque at the Hyatt Regency Office Tower with some of the most secure offices in the city, yet Barr decided to have his press conference at a jointly owned city-county facility free of charge.
It is not at all likely that AG Barr does not know who Mayor Tim Keller is nor Chief Michael Geier are seeing as APD and the Department of Justice are engaged in a 5 yearlong effort to reform APD after a federal investigation found in 2014 a “culture of aggression” and that APD engaged a practice of “deadly force” and “excessive force” against citizens. Both Barr and U.S. Attorney John Anderson for the District of New Mexico said they had seen progress with the DOJ reforms and are pleased with the efforts of the mayor and the chief in the reforms, a message he should have said to both face to face
According to a Channel 7 Report, the head of the U.S. Marshals in New Mexico said Mayor Tim Keller was not invited. KOAT did try to interview the Mayor Tim Keller about not being invited, but Keller surprisingly declined to talk about it on camera. Instead, the Mayor’s office issued a statement that said in part, “Fighting crime is a top priority and the mandate from local residents is for community policing and long-term partnerships.” The statement should have announced the city was also sending Barr a bill, like he did Trump recently, for use of the APD’s Chief’s conference room and make it clear to Barr the next time he comes to visit Albuquerque for a photo op press conference to disparage the city and state, he can use his own DOJ office space an conference room.
Before United States Attorney General William Barr flies again into Albuquerque for a photo op, it is strongly recommended that United States Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson brief him and try to educate him on manners and on the people Anderson has to work with on critical law enforcement issues and what is being done. Otherwise, Barr will continue to embarrass Anderson and the Department of Justice with his sure arrogance coming to New Mexico proclaiming how he is saving us from ourselves.