ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – More than a dozen people are behind bars after law enforcement targeted organized retail crime in the metro. However, some state leaders say these specific operations are not enough to combat the problem and they need state lawmakers to create harsher penalties.
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When it comes to retail crime, officers aren’t just seeing petty shoplifters — they’re seeing violent repeat offenders, sometimes armed with guns and bulletproof vests. Just days after a suspected shoplifter opened fire on an Albuquerque Walmart and a man pulled a gun on a Smith’s security guard when trying to make off with a case of beer, officers in the metro are taking measures to crack down on violent shoplifters.
“We’ve seen an increase in violence, shootings in retail centers, so it was important that we step up operations,” said Hector Balderas, Attorney General of New Mexico. “Step up the intervention and the disruption.”
This weekend, an organized retail crime operation between multiple agencies like APD and the AG’s office netted 17 arrests, including 15 felony offenders. But after finding some of the suspects armed with guns and bulletproof vets, Balderas says it’s a reminder of how quickly things can turn dangerous.
“I need all families to understand that while it looks safe one minute, immediately, any retail center in Albuquerque can turn into a crime scene,” said Balderas. “It’s a shame because families really deserve the opportunity to shop safely in our retail centers in Albuquerque.”
It’s also the reason state lawmaker Bill Rehm proposed House Bill 29. The bill would target organized retail crime, along with proposing harsher penalties than general shoplifting charges.
“It’s time that we get tough with the criminals and start holding them in jail,” said Rehm, a Republican serving Bernalillo County. “Unfortunately, my legislation is stuck in rules and it won’t come out.”
Despite incidents like those at Walmart and Smiths in the last week, adding on to others in recent months, that bill has stalled. “It’s absurd to me and ridiculous that the legislature would not have found the representative piece of legislation as germane to this session,” said Balderas.
With time ticking as the session wraps next week, a proposed “tough on crime” initiative seems less likely to make it into law. “Everything is all talk and no action. Here we are, we’re eight days left and we’ve got to do something quickly or it’s not going to occur.”
Balderas says he hopes lawmakers can consider the impact all crime — including retail — has on families and businesses just trying to get by. He says both have made complaints that have seemingly gone unheard.
“I think there’s a lack of education and understanding on behalf of lawmakers,” said Balderas. “They think this is their grandfather’s Albuquerque. This is a city that’s very different.”
During this weekend’s crime operation, investigators recovered three stolen vehicles and around $5,000 in stolen merchandise. Balderas says another important takeaway from this weekend is no one was hurt and they hope that will be the case for future operations.