Mayor Tim Keller sent a letter in early February to all New Mexico Legislators during the 30 legislative session saying changes on the state level are necessary to get our crime crisis under control. He wrote asking for support of his “Metro Crime Initiative” legislation and asking legislators to step up their efforts and not “push this problem back to the Duke City.”
Keller wrote in pertinent part:
“… The state’s criminal justice system is fundamentally broken, and there is no single person or government that can fix it alone. Our State deserves more than another round of the blame game; we deserve and demand solutions. It is way past time for each piece of the system to take responsibility and agree that we each have to do our part to make it work.
That’s why … I convened the “Metro Crime” Initiative, bringing together leaders from across the criminal justice system, including legislators from both chambers. It produced 40 action items across jurisdictions to repair this failed system.
First, we must rebuild the dismantled behavioral health system. Second, we must close the revolving door by fully funding our courts at every level, and fixing the systems that are supposed to stop criminals from committing new crimes between arrest and conviction. Finally, we need to protect our communities from the epidemic of gun violence.
Today we are supporting a package of public safety legislation and investments that can help accomplish these Metro Crime Initiative guiding principles. I know it can be tempting to push this problem back to the Duke City. But our State is at its best when we step up to help each other.
… there is no excuse for ignoring the 900 thousand New Mexicans who call the Albuquerque metro area home. And the reality is that crime is not just an Albuquerque issue. Violent crime is indisputably a statewide problem with at least twenty communities in our state experiencing a rise of violence over the past decade.
The State is fundamentally responsible for key aspects of the criminal justice system, including defining which crimes we take seriously and funding the courts, the prosecutors, the public defenders, the detention centers, and behavioral health and addiction treatment. Albuquerque does not write its own criminal code or make rules for its judges. These are the areas where you can provide tangible, immediate help. There are many ways you can demonstrate action on crime this session.
New Mexico rises and falls with the Duke City, and today, we need your help. The larger issue for this session is not whether this particular measure will pass. It is not whether people can find reasons to stall various crime bills. It is not about commissioning studies or waiting for a longer session or more data to take action.”
Mayor Keller’s entire February, 2022 letter to the legislature can be found at this news source link:
Mayor Keller in a separate interview said that lawmakers in rural areas do not see crime as their problem and said:
“I think that rhetoric has been really unfortunate. I think it has been damaging to our state.”
KELLER SUPPORTED PRETRIAL DETENTION LEGISLATION
One of the 40 action items identified by Keller’s “Metro Crime Initiative” is pretrial detention where a “rebuttable presumption of dangerousness” for defendants charged with certain violent crimes would be established for the courts. Under current state law, prosecutors are required to convince a judge in an evidentiary hearing that a charged defendant poses and immediate threat of violence to the public and to hold the defendant in jail until trial and not allow bond.
Rebuttable presumption shifts the burden of proof from state prosecutors, who must prove a case “beyond a reasonable doubt” to convict, to the defendant who would have to show they are not a danger to the public in order to be allowed to be released pending trial. As written the original bill was likely “unconstitutional” and violated the presumption of innocence until proven guilty guaranteed under the United States constitution.
On January 20, the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) released a 14-page memo analysis of the proposed “rebuttable presumption of violence” system and pretrial detention. LFC analysts found that low arrest, prosecution and conviction rates have more to do with rising violent crime rates than releasing defendants who are awaiting trial. The LFC report called into serious question if violent crime will be brought down by using a violent criminal charge to determine whether to keep someone accused of a crime in jail pending trial.
According to the LFC report, rebuttable presumption is “a values-based approach, not an evidence-based one.” The LFC report said that while crime rates have increased, arrests and convictions have not. The LFC went on to say the promise of “swift and certain” justice has a more significant impact on crime rates that rebuttable presumption does not.
The link to a related blog article is here:
On February 7, the bipartisan Senate Bill 189 on “Pre-Trial Detention” was tabled on an 5-3 vote in the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee, preventing the bill from moving forward in the Senate chamber essentially killing the legislation
APD MOST COMMON REASONS DWI CASES DISMISSED
On February 8, KRQE News 13 investigation reported on the most common reasons DWI cases are being dismissed in Bernalillo County. According to data compiled by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office between 2018 and 2020, a police officer’s failure to follow through was all too often the likely reason for a case getting thrown out of court.
In the last three years hundreds of accused drunk drivers have had their cases dismissed essentially on technicalities caused by law enforcement of the prosecution. According to the report:
“In 2018, the Albuquerque Police Department, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico State Police caught 2,521 people driving drunk. By 2020, because of the pandemic, bar closures and continued police officer shortages, the number of DWI arrests plummeted by more than 600.”
KRQE obtained the Bernalillo County DA’s Officer’s data that broke down the reasons why a case is dismissed. The data places blame on police officers. Depending on the police agency and the year, up to 77% of dismissals were attributed to the arresting officer failing to follow through on the case.
Judges assigned the cases must follow the law and the rules of criminal procedure and are required to dismiss a case if an officer doesn’t complete a pre-trial interview, turn over evidence to the defense or fails to show up to court.
Bernalillo County Deputy District Attorney Joshua Boone, the main DWI prosecutor at the DA’s office had this to say:
“It’s frustrating! If I lose cases on the merits because somebody is found to be not guilty or acquitted on a charge, I can always live with that. Losing cases on technicalities that’s a problem for me. … If we get a case where discovery has been turned over, the officers have conducted their interviews and they show up to court, we’re convicting at about an 89% rate. … We don’t lose those cases.”
The link to the full KRQE report is here:
KELLER’S METRO CRIME INITIATIVE
It was on September 23, that Mayor Keller concluded a conference he dubbed the “Metro Crime Initiative”. Participants included APD, the DA’s Office, the Courts and many other stakeholders to address what all participants labelled the “broken criminal justice” system and calling it a “revolving door”.
The entire “Metro Crime Initiative” started with the phony premise that our criminal justice system is broken. It’s not. The criminal justice is only as good as the stakeholders who are responsible to make it work and succeed. The 3 main components of the criminal justice system are law enforcement, prosecution and the courts. Examination of all 3 reflects failure to do their jobs.
When you examine the “check list” of the 40 different proposals that were the result of the Metro Crime Initiative, the proposals are essentially what all the participants have been working on over the past 2 years and include many programs already announced. The list contains nothing new. The items listed are ones that the participants should have been doing in the first place.
The 40 proposals are essentially an admission by many of the participants that they have not been doing their jobs effectively from the get go. There really is nothing new other than a public relations flyer and the checklist Mayor Tim Keller could hold up during his press conference and be able to say “ignore my failures of the past 4 years and see what I have done now to combat violent crime.”
KELLER’S APD NOT DOING ITS JOB
APD statistics for the budget years of 2019 and 2020 reflect that APD is not doing its job of investigating and arresting people. APD felony arrests went down from 2019 to 2020 by 39.51%, going down from 10,945 to 6,621. Misdemeanor arrests went down by 15% going down from 19,440 to 16,520. DWI arrests went down from 1,788 in 2019 to 1,230 in 2020, down 26%. The total number of all arrests went down from 32,173 in 2019 to 24,371 in 2020 or by 25%. Bookings at the jail have plummeted from 38,349 in 2010 to 17,734 in 2020. To have booking, there must be arrests. APD’s homicide unit has an anemic clearance rate of 36%.
When Raul Torrez ran for DA the first time, he said our criminal justice system was broken. Torrez accused the District Courts of being responsible for the rise in crime and releasing violent offenders pending trial. Torrez accused defense attorneys of “gaming the system” to get cases dismissed against their clients. A report to the Supreme Court prepared by the District Court revealed it is the DA’s office dismissing more felony cases for various reasons than the courts. The DA’s office currently has the highest voluntary dismissal rate in its history, and plea agreements with low penalties are the norm. Data given to the Supreme Court revealed overcharging and a failure to screen cases by the DA’s Office contributes to a combined 65% mistrial, acquittal and dismissal rate.
A negative perception of the courts is created when judges release violent felons and not holding them for trial without bond. It’s common knowledge that Judges are concerned about their disqualification rates, appeals and reversals and how they are perceived by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. Judges are reluctant to make decisions and hold off on making the hard decisions to avoid controversy to protect their jobs.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The participants in Mayor Tim Keller’s “Metro Crime Initiative” know what is wrong with the state’s criminal justice system. It is not a “broken system” but a “systems failure” caused by their own failures to act and to do their jobs effectively. The problems and shortcomings within our criminal justice system will not ever go away unless and until the stakeholders do their own jobs in an effective and competent manner.
The criminal justice system in this country and this state has never been perfect, nor will it ever be, but it is not broken. The criminal justice system does have its flaws and a number of inequities, but to say that it is a broken system is just plain ignorance or political opportunism at its worst.
A CONDECENDING LETTER
Keller’s letter to the New Mexico legislature has an unmistakable level of condescension of a big city attitude that results in the city being vilified by smaller rural communities. New Mexico doe not “rise and fall with the Duke City” as Keller suggests, nor is our “state’s criminal justice system fundamentally broken.” Further, our constitutional rights of presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt should never be sacrificed because prosecutors, and for that matter Mayor’s like Tim Keller and legislator’s, want to look good and be able to say they are bringing down crime.
Prosecutors like DA Raul Torrez are also lazy not wanting to do their own jobs but instead rely on a system to hold people pending trial and forcing them to begin a criminal sentence when they ultimately may be found not guilty or a case is dismissed with a District Attorney saying “never mind”.
Mayor Tim Keller’s letter, for all of its good intentions, can be held up as a good example as to why no Mayor of Albuquerque since Clyde Tingley in 1934 has gone on to become New Mexico Governor. Big city Pete Domenici was honorary Mayor of Albuquerque as Chairman of the City Commission and ran for Governor only to be defeated by small town Stanly, New Mexico Democrat Governor Bruce King.
Next time Mayor Tim Keller writes a letter to the New Mexico legislature regarding the failure of the criminal justice system, or to chide what he feels is rhetoric from smaller communities as “unfortunate and damaging to our state,” he may want to make sure that his own law enforcement agency is carrying its own weight and doing its job. Otherwise his own ambitions to becoming Governor will fail.