NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico’s lawmakers are getting ready for next year’s legislative session by thinking about how to tackle crime. To help them consider options, several experts gave them an idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Last week, several experts made presentations to state legislators. They included Professor Jennifer Doleac, an economics professor at Texas A&M University. She studies the economics of crime and discrimination and covers the topic by leading panels and even hosting a podcast on justice.
“We know that people respond to incentives including repeat offenders,” Doleac says. “So, increasing the expected cost of committing crime should deter them from committing crime in the future.”
What doesn’t work, she says, is increasing the length of sentences. That’s something legislators have tried recently.
“The offenders are simply not thinking that far in the future,” Doleac says. “They’re thinking about tomorrow or next week. They’re not thinking about the five years that’s just been tacked on to the sentence they might start. So, we simply don’t get much of a deterrent effect from longer sentences.”
Earlier this year, New Mexico lawmakers debated and eventually passed, House Bill 68. Among other things, the new law adds a “firearm enhancement” to give a longer sentence to violent offenders who possess a firearm. And the Albuquerque Federal Bureau of Investigation announced a “gun crime equals federal time” campaign.
Deterrence, according to Doelac, means increasing the odds that a criminal will get caught. One way to do that, she says, is to have more police on the ground.
There’s “lots of evidence that putting more police on the streets and increasing police presence reduces violent crime, particularly homicide,” she says. “I would say this is the one thing we absolutely know.”
Recently, law enforcement agencies have tried to increase their presence in crime-ridden communities. KRQE News 13 previously reported on how the Albuquerque Police Department has tried to increase its staff numbers.
Doelac’s presentation to state legislators comes at a time when New Mexico’s violent crime continues to rise, despite the recent efforts to curb crime. Ellen Rabin, an analyst for the state’s legislature, highlighted the issue in another presentation to legislators.
“Our violent crime and property crime rates have always been above the U.S. crime rate,” Rabin said during a meeting Wednesday. “More recently, we’ve seen violent crime increases.” Her presentation also noted that the “certainty of justice has deteriorated” and that “swiftness of justice may be slowing” in the state.
Rabin and her coworkers at the Legislative Finance Committee aren’t the only ones to note the problem. Albuquerque was recently featured in an article by The Atlantic and ProPublica, which explored how the slowdown of the state’s court system may have led to increased violence.
Anne Teigen, the associate director of the National Conference of State Legislatures, gave legislators an idea of what other states are doing to combat crime. Teigen told New Mexico legislators that the federal government is unlikely to swoop in and fix issues in the state.
“This is kind of what we know: Reducing violence is primarily a local responsibility,” Teigen said. “Most efforts to counter violence really occur in cities where local agencies and organizations can engage directly with those involved.” But, she adds that federal support and funding have increased somewhat in recent years.
Given the in-depth discussions on crime and the continued rise in crime in some New Mexico communities, it seems likely that legislators will introduce more bills to tackle crime in the upcoming legislative session. The next regular lawmaking session will begin in January of next year.
Several legislators threw out ideas to look into. For example, there was a discussion on using more tracking technology to stop criminals. And legislators discussed the idea of applying targeted deterrence, such as offering resources to at-risk youth offenders while at the same time threatening them with jail time.
Despite differing political views and diverse backgrounds, New Mexico’s lawmakers are coming together over the issue of crime. “I would say that New Mexico is really asking the right questions,” Teigen said.