ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Following the end of the state’s 30-day legislative session, Albuquerque’s mayor and police leadership discussed their thoughts on lawmakers efforts toward criminal reform. Saying there were “some wins” the city is grateful for, Mayor Tim Keller called the outcomes of the session “a bit of a mixed bag.”
“We’re going to use those [wins] going forward to make this city better,” Keller said. “We also didn’t get a lot of things when it came to homelessness, and also when it came to the revolving door, so we’re going to get fighting for those challenges.”
Albuquerque has been in the midst of a violent crime wave over recent years. There were more than 100 homicides in Albuquerque in 2021, a triple-digit count the city has never previously recorded. The city outlined 18 crime fighting proposals late last year after hosting a series of idea gathering sessions through something it called the “Metro Crime Initiative.”
A week before the start of the legislative session, Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham publicly threw support behind several “tough on crime” bills. Mayor Tim Keller stood at her side during the news conference.
At Friday’s news conference, Keller said the session showed that, “the legislature, when properly primed and worked with, can take action on crime.” The mayor in part highlighted some of the changes in state statute and court funding.
“We were able to get some assistance when it comes to ankle bracelets and monitoring, gun-violent crime enhancements so we hold people to a different standard when they actually use or brandish a firearm, because a life could be lost,” Keller said. “We also know we have increased funding in the court system, which was desperately needed and something we fought for, including an extra judge right here in the metro.”
Prior to the session, the governor notably announced her support for a law that sought to change the rules related to what judge’s must consider before choosing to detain an accused criminal in jail through their trial. The governor also pushed several other bills to include new or enhanced penalties for gun crimes and second-degree murder, along with an effort to create a $100-million law enforcement recruitment and retention fund.
By the end of the legislative session, several of Democratic lawmakers initial proposals were either scrapped or changed. The $100-million law enforcement fund was curtailed to $55-million. The rebuttable presumption bill was abandoned, swapped out for a bill focused on providing GPS ankle monitoring data to police and prosecutors when investigating crimes.
“We got some good work [done] on the GPS monitoring,” APD Field Services Division Deputy Chief Josh Brown said Friday. “Allowing detectives to go out and get these people who are actively committing crimes.”
Lawmakers did however pass several changes to criminal code through House Bill 68. Included in the omnibus criminal law bill are added penalties for fleeing from law enforcement and tougher penalties for using a gun in commission of a crime.
Lawmakers also passed a bill increasing jail time for people convicted of second-degree murder, a bill to criminalize the operation of “chop shops” or places where stolen cars are taken and and dismantled for parts.
Addressing the question of “if lawmakers did enough” to tackle crime during the session, Mayor Tim Keller said lawmakers “worked hard especially at the end of the session,” but he did not rule out the idea of lawmakers reconvening in Santa Fe for a special session. In a news conference in January, Keller initially gave lawmakers an ultimatum: “This [crime problem] has to be fixed, so if you can’t get it done in 30 days, there should be a special session.”
Friday, Keller said, he remains open to the idea of a crime focused special session. However, he also offered a caveat that he’s “always supported a special session on crime going back for at least two years.”
“We just can’t let the clock be an excuse, it’s always, ‘oh, we ran out of time!’ and this and that, and that’s what special sessions are for,” Keller said. “I do support it, but as my former colleagues know, I do support it, but as my former colleague know, I’ve always supported every special session, I mean I wanted a special session to bring Tesla here!”
City officials also discussed some of the state’s legislative funding wins and losses during Friday’s news conference. State lawmakers passed funding to launch a Violence Intervention Program (VIP) statewide. Albuquerque’s VIP initiative uses two social workers to help intervene with victims of violent crime in efforts to keep them from perpetrating the next violent crime.
“This is the most intensive case management model, the reason it works is because its a different kind of social services model,” Albuquerque’s VIP Program Manager Gerri Bachicha said during Friday’s news conference. “We expect to be able to expand potentially six workers with the funding that we get from the state legislature.”
Albuquerque’s Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael said the city received around $50-million for various projects through the state’s capital outlay program. Calling it a significant investment, Rael said transportation projects, some community centers and libraries will benefit from earmarks. The city also received $3-million for a planned Community Safety Department and Fire Department building.
However, Rael highlighted lawmakers denial of funds for the Albuquerque Police headquarters building in downtown. “This facility is very old, it has some very significant issue with its mechanical systems, with its infrastructure, some code violations are a result of codes that have been updated, this building needs a significant facelift,” Rael said.
The city was also denied a $30-million state funding for its Gateway Center homeless shelter in the latest legislative session. Keller said that money would have been spent on a “crisis triage center and a medical respite” facility focused on helping treat people with drug addiction.