On May 25, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she was reviving the Governor’s Organized Crime Prevention Commission as a move to target organized crime in New Mexico and to help combat human trafficking and illegal fentanyl sales. The bipartisan commission was established in 1973 and produced its last major report in 1978. According to the Governor, reestablishing the commission will send a message to organized crime organizations and produce reports that can help guide crime-fighting strategies.
Under state law, the Governor’s Organized Crime Prevention Commission is made up of 7 members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. No more than four members can be of the same political party. The commission has subpoena power and may initiate investigations. The Commission will also be tasked with making proposed changes to the state’s criminal laws, but those changes will have to be approved by the New Mexico Legislature. The commission will hold public and private meetings while developing a comprehensive plan to suppress organized criminal organizations.
According to the Governor the commission will pursue strategies for disrupting the operations of international drug cartels and street gangs in New Mexico, which are particularly active in fentanyl distribution, sex trafficking and illegal gun sales. She also said the Commission will produce recommendations to policymakers and strengthen law enforcement coordination across jurisdictions.
During the May 25 press conference, the Governor announce the appointment of the 7 member commission. The Governor said this:
“These seven individuals have among them well over a century of expertise in law enforcement and the judicial system. This commission will serve as a powerful tool to hit organized crime where it hurts the most. … We must do more to interrupt organized crime operations in our state, and these are sophisticated groups that take a sophisticated approach. That’s what I am tasking this group to do.”
“It is indicative of the kind of leadership that is occurring in the state of New Mexico that is completely laser-focused on public safety and holding individuals conducting criminal activity accountable at every level, in every single place in the state, and doing it in such a fashion that lends itself to our federal partners and other states so that we’re collaborating across state lines on activity that we know is impacting individuals public safety right here in our state”
“It is a message to bad actors and organized criminal elements. Who, I want to also point out, are incredibly sophisticated criminal organizations and operations. Arguably, they are far too often engaged in the next set of high-risk criminal activity. Every day. Every day with one-year, five-year, 10-year and 20-year agendas. We want to interrupt that right here. We are clear about that sophistication. We are clear about those risks. We will identify patterns and issues. We will do that in our own state and across state lines that we will fully engage our federal partners. It is a benefit to the folks who are working day and night to keep New Mexicans safe.”
The Governor appointed Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman as Chairman of the Governor’s Organized Crime Prevention Commission. It was in January that the Governor appointed Bregman District Attorney who immediately announced he would only serve 2 years and not run again for DA.
The other members of the commission announced are:
Sheriff John Allen, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department
Secretary Jason Bowie, Department of Public Safety
Sonya K. Chavez, United States Marshal, New Mexico
Chief Eddie Flores, Western New Mexico University Police Department
Marcus Montoya, Eighth Judicial District Attorney
Honorable Judith K. Nakamura, former Chief Justice, New Mexico Supreme Court
Former Bernalillo County Assistant District Attorney Rob Hart has been appointed as Acting Director of the Organized Crime Commission.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman had this to say:
“It’s exactly, I think, what this state needs. … Everyone here today knows that New Mexico, like the rest of the country, has a crime problem. Whether it’s guns, drugs, or human trafficking, they all have one thing in common. Much of it gets its origin means and methods from criminal organizations. It is organized crime.”
“We will focus as a commission on getting a handle on gun violence and the proliferation of gun trafficking in our communities — taking on the cartels, their affiliates and the criminal organizations who are poisoning our people with fentanyl. … We will work with all law enforcement to assess and evaluate the activities and problems involving organized crime and develop a comprehensive plan to suppress and fight organized crime by the cartels, their affiliates, and other criminal organizations.”
“This commission will work with the attorney general and all of law enforcement to assess and evaluate the activities and problems involving organized crime and develop a comprehensive plan to suppress and fight organized crime by the cartels, their affiliates and other criminal organizations. … It is a long road to get a handle on crime and public safety issues we face every day but everyone on this commission is committed to executing this crucial first step.”
U.S. Marshal Sonya K. Chavez had this to say:
“This commission is a cutting-edge opportunity. … We already have a cadre of resources across the state, and we will do our best to coordinate them and bring them together to focus on what is hurting New Mexico.”
Former Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court Judith K. Nakamura said this:
“I look at this commission as an extension of the work I did as a judge. … At the end of the day, the job of a judge is to prevent crime. It was difficult to achieve alone but when we work together, we can lessen the case load and make New Mexico a safer place to live.”
Bernalillo County Sherriff John Allen described the commission as a way to coordinate resources across jurisdictional boundaries and said this:
“We have to show we’re a unified front across law enforcement.”
New Mexico Republican lawmakers said reestablishing a commission isn’t enough on its own to curtail crime. House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said in a written statement:
“House Republicans are committed to using the interim to develop practical solutions that address the root causes of crime and the mental health issues plaguing our communities. … We are concerned about creating yet another commission allowing politicians to take political victory laps but not provide real solutions.”
Surprisingly, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez was not appointed a member of the commission but said he will support the commission’s work. Notwithstanding Torrez said this:
“It will take a lot of work and it will, I hope, focus us on some probably difficult questions in every corner of the state and in every aspect of the institutions that will lead. It’s absolutely necessary to get a handle on the crime and public safety challenges that we face day in and day out. … So, while I’m not a member of the commission, we do have a responsibility to work with the commission to receive report’s recommendations. I look forward to the work that this group can put together and any support that we can provide to the attorney general’s office will be there. … A lot of times people in our community look at isolated crimes or criminal events, and they don’t see the connection. … [A] good deal of what we see each and every day in our community is actually driven by organizations.”
The links to a quoted news sources are here:
RATIONAL FOR REINSTATING
The biggest rational for the Governor reinstating the Organized Crime Commission is New Mexico’s spiking crime rates and in particular to help combat human trafficking and the illegal trade and in particular fentanyl sales.
NEW MEXICO CRIME RATES
In 2020, New Mexico had the nation’s second-highest violent crime rate. In 2021 New Mexico law enforcement reported over 28,000 crimes against persons. That includes crimes such as murder, rape, assault, and kidnapping. Given New Mexico’s population, the state’s crime rate against persons per population is the second highest in the nation. In 2021 FBI data shows for every 100,000 people in New Mexico, law enforcement reported 2,189 crimes against persons. The only state with a higher rate was Arkansas, which reported 2,276 crimes per 100,000 people.
In 202, New Mexico law enforcement agencies reported nearly 25,500 instances of assault . That’s 1,872 more than the state reported in 2020. New Mexico law enforcement also reported more homicides in 2021 than the year before. 2021 across New Mexico, police reported 193 homicides to the FBI. That’s 67 more than in 2020. Not at all surprising is that the majority of the state’s reported homicides were in Albuquerque.
New Mexico is not at the top of the list in all crime categories. While New Mexico law enforcement reported 1,663 instances of sex offenses in 2021, 6 other states had higher rates of sex offenses per population. That includes states like Alaska, Utah, and Montana.
The FBI numbers show New Mexico’s per-population kidnapping and abduction rate was the highest in the nation. New Mexico’s firearm ownership and fatality rate is also among the nation’s highest. In 2016 over 37% of adults in the state lived in a household with a firearm which is 5% higher than the national average according to the think tank Rand Corp.
New Mexico law enforcement reported 822 kidnappings and abductions to the FBI in 2021. That puts New Mexico at the top of the list regarding kidnappings and abductions per 100,000 people. Kansas, Colorado, and Utah also rank high on the list of kidnappings and abductions per population.
New Mexico’s firearm fatality rate is among the nation’s highest. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, there were a total of 562 state residents who died in 2021 due to firearm-related injuries. This figure is up significantly from the 481 firearm-related deaths in 2020. Of the 562 state residents who died in 2021 due to firearms, 319 cases, were classified as suicides and 243 were classified as homicides. In New Mexico, the rate of 14.9 firearm-related deaths per every 100,000 residents in 2010 nearly doubled over the last decade and there were 23 such deaths for every 100,000 residents in 2020.
ALBUQUERQUE AT FOREFRONT OF CRIME WAVE
Albuquerque is at the forefront of New Mexico’s high violent crime rate. According to legislative data released, the city had about half of the state’s violent crime in 2022 but has just 25% or so of its total population. The Albuquerque Police Department reported that in November, 2022 gun law violations spiked 85%.
The last two years have also been two very violent years for Albuquerque. The number of homicides in the city have broken all-time records. In 2021, there were 117 homicides, with 3 declared self-defense reducing homicide number to 114. In 2022, there were 120 homicides, a historical high.
On Thursday, March 16, 2023 the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) released the 2022 crime statistics along with crime statistics for 2022 for a comparison. During his March 16 press conference announcing the City’s 2022 crime statistics, APD Chief Harold Medina embellished that a 3% drop in overall total of crime and a 4% decrease in Crimes Against Persons and the 2% decrease in Crimes Against Property was positive movement.
The slight 3% decrease in overall crime was over shadowed by the 24% spike in CRIMES AGAINST SOCIETY which are largely made up of drug and gun offenses and a 71% increase in murders over the last 6 years. Chief Medina presented a vertical bar graph that revealed that over the last 6 years, Albuquerque has had a dramatic 71% spike in homicides. The number of homicides reported over the last 6 years is as follows:
2017: 70 homicides
2018: 69 homicides
2019: 80 homicides
2020: 78 homicides
2021: 110 homicides
2022: 120 homicides
On March 16, in addition to reporting that there has been a 71% spike in homicides, APD officials reported that over the past 6 years there has been a 28% increase in Aggravated Assaults which by definition includes the use of a firearms. Following are the Aggravated Assaults numbers:
Crime rates in Albuquerque are high across the board. According to the Albuquerque Police’s annual report on crime, there were 46,391 property crimes and 15,765 violent crimes recorded in 2021. These numbers place Albuquerque among America’s most dangerous cities.
All residents are at increased risk of experiencing aggravated robbery, auto theft, and petty theft. The chances of becoming a victim of property crime in Albuquerque are 1 in 20, an alarmingly high statistic. Simple assault, aggravated assault, auto theft, and larceny are just some of the most common criminal offenses in Albuquerque. Burglary and sex offense rates In Albuquerque are also higher than the national average.
ALBUQUERQUE IS RANKED 17TH AMONG 70 OF THE LARGEST CITIES
On April 26, the Major Cities Chiefs Association released its Violent Crime Survey and national totals for the crimes of homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. According to the report, Albuquerque is ranked 17th among 70 of the largest cities in the nation looking at trends in the 4 categories. The single most troubling statistic is Albuquerque’s increase in homicides.
The statistics for Albuquerque reported by the Major Cities Chiefs Association for the last two years were as follows:
The Major Cities Chiefs Association report shows in 2022, there was a 5% drop in homicides nationwide. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Albuquerque had one of the worst homicide rates in the nation and is one of 27 cities across the nation that saw an increase in homicides.
The report shows in 2021, there were 106 homicides. In 2022, there were 115, an 8% increase. Other nearby cities like Phoenix saw a 13% increase in homicides. Meanwhile, to the north, the Denver Police Department reported an 8% decrease in homicides. Just four hours south, the city of El Paso saw a 28% decrease in homicides, one of the highest drops in the report.
Click to access MCCA-Violent-Crime-Report-2022-and-2021-Midyear.pdf
THE BIGGER PICTURE
On Thursday, March 16, 2023 the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) released the 2022 crime statistics along with crime statistics for 2021 for a comparison. APD Chief Harold Medina reported Albuquerque crime statistics as follows:
CRIMES AGAINST PERSONS
EDITORS NOTE: Crimes Against Persons include murder, rape, and assault, and are those in which the victims are always individuals.
2022: 12,777 (4% DECREASE)
CRIMES AGAINST PROPERTY
EDITOR’S NOTE: Crimes Against Property include robbery, bribery, and burglary, or to obtain money, property, or some other benefit.
2022: 43,824 (2% DECREASE)
CRIMES AGAINST SOCIETY
EDITOR’S NOTE: Crimes Against Society include gambling, prostitution, and drug violations, and represent society’s prohibition against engaging in certain types of activity and are typically victimless crimes.
2022: 5,133 (24% INCREASE)
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The Governors Organize Crime Prevention Commission is what is called by politicos as “Government by Committee”. It looks good, sounds good and designed for the publicity but accomplishes very little other than a sound bite. A good example occurred in 1973, when the newly created Governors Organize Crime Prevention Commission did a survey of possible areas of organized crime activity in New Mexico and of existing and needed law enforcement resources to combat it. The report found “a growing threat of encroachment by organized crime in New Mexico, and urges that steps be taken now to reduce it.” The commission listed immediate goals for 1974. “Those goals were to combat crime in the areas of drugs trafficking, fencing, pornography, prostitution, gambling, infiltration of business, labor racketeering, arson, vending machines, credit card frauds, liquor licenses, loansharking, private investigators and corruption.”
“SITTING AROUND ACTING LIKE THEY ARE SELLING CATTLE”
There is a major reason why the Governor’s Organize Crime Prevention Commission faded essentially out of existence within 10 years. It was viewed by subsequent Governor’s as ineffective and a major waste of resources. It had the reputation amongst law enforcement as having no need for it but filled with the Governor’s politcal appointees and it was created for “politcal show and tell”. Simply put, law enforcement and prosecutors should not need to be told how to do their jobs, what their priorities are nor what resources they need nor what policy changes are required to get the job done to protect the public.
There is a well known New Mexico saying “Sitting around acting like they are selling cattle”. It’s a description of how very little ranchers have to do other than sitting in the bleachers and talk to themselves as they wait for their cattle to be auctioned.
It is very difficult to understand why Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman and Bernalillo County Sherriff John Allen would even agree to serve on such commission, other than for the publicity it will bring them. Bregman and Allen will now be able to “sit around and act like they are selling cattle” donning their cowboy hats talking to themselves while pretending to listen to the other commission members.
Bregman and Allen have now been on the job for a 5 mere months. You would think they both already have a enough to do just getting their own offices up and running. The blunt truth is that if Bregman and Allen would just concentrate on doing their existing jobs of investigating, arresting and prosecuting cases, especially violent crime and narcotics cases, they will likely do more on their own to address New Mexico’s and Albuquerque’s high crime rates than attending meetings, wasting their time and talking to themselves.
CALL SPECIAL SESSION AND ENACT “OMNIBUS GUN VIOLENCE AND SENTENCING ACT
Violent crime, the fentanyl crisis and drug cartels in New Mexico are very real, but reinstating the Governor’s Organize Crime Commission is in no way the answer. The Governor can do much better than resurrecting a defunct and ineffective crime commission that will be been soon forgotten and fade just as quickly as the last one with very little accomplished. There are in fact “dramatic circumstances” that exist right now that justify a special session. Governor Michelle Lujan should call a special session to deal with crime and punishment.
If Governor Lujan Grisham is indeed sincere about the State’s crime crisis she should seek the enactment of an “Omnibus Gun Violence And Sentencing Act” that could be enacted by a special session. There must be a zero tolerance of crimes committed with firearms involving drug trafficking such as fentanyl.
The following crime and sentencing provisions should be included in the “Omnibus Gun Violence And Sentencing Act”:
- Allow firearm offenses used in a drug crime to be charged separately with enhance sentences.
- Making possession of a handgun by someone who commits a crime of drug trafficking an aggravated third-degree felony mandating a 10-year minimum sentence.
- Increase the firearm enhancement penalties provided for the brandishing a firearm in the commission of a felony from 3 years to 10 years for a first offense and for a second or subsequent felony in which a firearm is brandished 12 years.
- Create a new category of enhanced sentencing for use of a lethal weapon or deadly weapon other than a firearm where there is blandishment of a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony with enhanced sentences of 5 years for a first offense and for second or subsequent felony in which a lethal weapon other than a firearm is brandished 8 years
- Increase the penalty of shooting randomly into a crowded area a second-degree felony mandating a 9-year sentence.
- Change bail bond to statutorily empower judges with far more discretionary authority to hold and jail those pending trial who have prior violent crime reported incidents without shifting the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense.
The “Omnibus Gun Violence And Sentencing Act” must include funding for the criminal justice system. This would include funding District Attorney’s Offices, the Public Defender’s Office, the Courts and the Corrections Department and law enforcement departments across New Mexico.
Until the Governor and the legislature gets serious about crime, punishment and dedicating law enforcement resources and personnel to prevention, all they are going to be doing is “sitting around acting like they are selling cattle.”