Last week, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez delivered his third annual CrimeSTAT briefing virtually to the Chamber at its Public Safety BIG signature event. He described trends that have come into focus in the past year, as well as those that have remained constant for much longer, and his priorities as DA in the year ahead.
In the last year, Torrez said, property crime has declined – in fact, property crime has dropped significantly over the last three years – but violent crime is up 4% from last year, and homicides are on pace with 2019, a record year.
Just as troubling are the nearly 1,300 felony cases that have not been initiated due to the inability to convene grand juries in the pandemic environment.
“For a community that has seen sustained and, frankly, historically abnormal levels of violent crime, reducing our access to the grand jury imposes a massive resource burden on police officers and on our prosecutors,” Torrez said. When the pandemic is over, he added, he intends to ask our local district court to not simply return to pre-pandemic grand jury levels, but to substantially increase grand jury access to work through the current backlog of felony cases.
Torrez also described systemic failings in our local criminal justice system, such as the frequent denial by district court judges of his office’s motions to detain serious offender in jail pre-trial. Roughly half of his pre-trial detention motions are not granted, many of them involving violent offenders. Meanwhile, he says the state’s public safety assessment – which is supposed to help judges objectively determine the risk posed by a defendant – continually recommends the detention of defendants arrested for drug offenses and non-violent crimes and recommends the release of those arrested for violent crimes.
“To put things in perspective, the New Jersey prosecutors that we work with, they actually file detention [motions] at four times the rate at which our prosecutors currently do in this county, and their detentions are granted at a higher level. We are objectively out of sync with the rest of the nation when it comes to pre-trial detention,” Torrez said.
On a more positive note, Torrez provided an overview of new technologies the District Attorney’s office is using, as part of its Crime Strategies Unit, to identify and take down well-connected criminals and the criminal networks in which they operate. Approximately 60-70% of gun crime can be committed by only 0.5% of a city’s population, meaning it’s imperative to understand the networks, relationships, and motivations at work.
He also talked about a new “Case Catcher” tool being developed by the Chamber and its partner at New Mexico Tech that would provide for the state’s first-ever electronic case packaging and referral system. Law enforcement agencies will soon be able to share discovery with prosecutors through a new, streamlined online process, improving the quality of criminal cases, reducing case dismissals, and allowing crime analysts in the D.A.’s Office to more easily search electronic case materials and identify potential crime networks.
“The impact of groups and gangs on violent crime is clear,” Torrez said, “and for those communities around the country who have made real reductions in their violent crimes, they always start and usually very clearly see significant gains when they focus on those networked individuals.”
However, Torrez also noted that “criminals don’t arise out of nowhere,” describing the long-lasting impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Approximately 86% of incarcerated New Mexico juveniles experienced at least four ACEs – and 28% of all children in New Mexico have experienced ACEs at the same rate. He praised the ADOBE program at UNM that offers multigenerational wraparound services to previously incarcerated juveniles and their families, with profound success in keeping those juveniles from reengaging in delinquent or criminal behavior and saving lives.
We were delighted to host DA Torrez for his timely and in-depth presentation. If you weren’t able to tune in live, you can watch a recording the event at our YouTube channel here.