ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A pair of New Mexico lawmakers put forward a series of public safety proposals Tuesday, aiming to strike a bipartisan tone in addressing rising crime rates as more people cycle through the criminal justice system and the number of officers — especially in Albuquerque — has declined in recent years.
At a news conference, Rep. Nate Gentry and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto touted their proposals as representing a sweeping approach to the city’s crime problem with measures that target nearly every level of New Mexico’s criminal justice system — from boosting police staffing levels to trying to ensure more access to behavioral health treatment for inmates leaving prisons or jails.
Gentry is a Republican and Ivey-Soto a Democrat. Both represent districts in Albuquerque.
It’s not clear ahead of the bills being debated in the 30-day legislative session that begins next week in Santa Fe how much support the measures would garner among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, though they so far have gained the support of Bernalillo County sheriff and the Albuquerque police union.
“It’s a common sense approach to a very dynamic problem,” said Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.
In recent years, a spate of anti-crime measures have been at the center of partisan wrangling in Santa Fe as lawmakers have attempted to take a policy approach to stemming a tide of high-profile violent crimes and property crimes. Measures that have proposed tougher sentences have proven especially contentious, including efforts to reinstate the death penalty and expand the state’s three-strikes statute.
Gov. Susana Martinez plans to bring both proposals back, and Gentry and Ivey-Soto also are proposing their own three-strikes bill, despite similar measures stalling or failing in the past.
The lawmakers’ three-strikes bill would expand the list of violent crimes for which felons with three or more violent criminal convictions picked up in three different criminal investigations could be handed life sentences with the possibility of parole.
Other bills Ivey-Soto and Gentry are co-sponsoring represent new attempts at tackling crime, including one that would allow for $15,000 bonuses for veteran officers with at least 20 years of experience. The individual police departments would identify officers for the bonuses, and then state Law Enforcement Protection Fund would provide $7,500 toward the bonus. The city or county would have to provide the other $7,500 of the bonus under the bill.
The effort aims to give veteran officers some incentive to remain on police forces instead of retiring, and seems to have a similar intent as budget proposals with bi-partisan support for police pay raises, which could help officer recruitment.
City officials have repeatedly stated in recent years that the police department is several hundred officers short of what a municipality of Albuquerque’s size should have, which has hampered crime fighting and created dangers for police.
Another bill filed by Gentry and Ivey-Soto would require jails and prisons to screen inmates to identify those suffering from mental illness and addiction, and then require them to enroll the inmates in Medicaid before their release back into society.
“We tried to identify what we could do to put a dent in crime in New Mexico,” Gentry said.