ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – After years of asking for more money to fight crime in Albuquerque, the understaffed Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office may finally be getting some real help.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s office said she’ll back a big budget increase for the new DA, Raul Torrez.
The county DA handles nearly half the criminal cases in the state but barely gets a quarter of the funding that goes to all the DA’s offices. That’s contributed to a lot of criminals going free.
“We have more cases coming in than we can turn over with the available staff and do the backlog at the same time. In the month of August alone, we took in 865 felony cases,” Torrez said. “At that rate, that would be over 10,000 felony cases a year and unfortunately right now we only have 55 trial attorneys.”
The DA’s office has a backlog of about 7,800 felony cases. The lack of resources to try these cases means criminals get put back on the street as cases fall through the cracks or get pled out.
“Guys are working around the clock. We’re arresting a lot of people. Unfortunately we’re arresting the same people over and over again,” Albuquerque Police Officer Simon Drobik said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship between the DA’s office and us. The DA’s office prosecuted them so we’re very happy it looks like the DA’s office is going to get more money to help them out.”
Martinez’s office confirmed to KRQE News 13 she will recommend at the next legislative session in January that the DA’s office gets the $6.5 million it requested in September for more prosecutors, investigators and support staff.Read the DA’s budget request to the Legislative Finance Committee >>
Torrez does not have a set number of prosecutors he wants to hire, but said the funds will fill longtime vacancies to start.
“[We’re] slotted for 15 vacancies on the prosecutors side,” Torrez said. “If you add in support staff, investigators and victim specialists, that number goes up to 45.”
The governor did not push for more funding for the DA’s office this past session.
That $6.5 million would be about a 30 percent increase to the DA’s budget. The state is expected to be in the black this year, but not by much.
Speaker of the House Brian Egolf said the highest priority during the legislative session is on public safety, though it’s too soon to assume the whole $6.5 million will be allotted to the D.A.’s office.
“We wont have a final decision on a number until we know the revenue forecast and how the budget is shaping up overall,” he said. Until we see what the revenue numbers are, we cant commit to any particular number. In addition to paying for prosecutors and police officers, we also have to pay for nurses and doctors and teachers and transportation workers so it’s just a balancing act.”