ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – For more than a year, police officers have been trying to crack down on so-called “organized retail crime.” Now, a new law is going into effect that could help lock up thieves.

As retail prices rise, some opportunistic thieves have turned to stealing from big box stores. Already dozens of individuals have been arrested for retail crime, but thieving continues. As the now-former Attorney General Hector Balderas said in 2022, “it is more profitable now to go and steal from our local retailers than it is to sell drugs and guns in New Mexico.”

“Bernalillo County has an organized retail crime problem,” Sam Bregman, the county’s district attorney, told KRQE News 13. “We’ve seen far too many businesses ripped off.”

Lawmakers heard the concern from officials and retailers alike. In 2023, they passed a law intended to help put retail criminals behind bars. That law goes into effect on June 16, 2023.

Bregman, whose office often prosecutes accused thieves, says the new law gives him another tool to try to keep the community safe.

The law allows prosecutors to add up the cash value of stolen goods in certain crimes to decide what penalty criminals should get. The higher the total value of the goods stolen, the stricter the penalty, all the way up to a second-degree felony (with up to 9 years in prison) if criminals steal more than $20,000-worth of goods.

“We’re able to aggregate those shoplifting cases into felonies,” Bregman says. “And I think it’s going to make a difference. And I’m looking forward to this law taking effect.”

The law also allows prosecutors to charge criminals with a new crime: “aggravated shoplifting.” Under the new law, if someone unlawfully assaults a person with a deadly weapon while shoplifting, they can be charged with a third-degree felony.

While Bregman is positive that the new law will make a difference, he does note that there are complex factors behind some of the county’s shoplifting issues.

“There are people that are out there that are shoplifting to feed a drug addiction that they may have,” Bregman explains. “We do what we can to divert those folks out of the criminal justice system and get them the mental health treatment they need.” But he reiterates that his office is going to use the new law to hold repeat retail criminals accountable.