US Attorney John Anderson joined today’s Chamber Board of Directors meeting to discuss the U.S. Department of Justice’s work to support local law enforcement in Albuquerque in “stemming the unrelenting epidemic of violent crime in our city.”
“This is not normal,” Anderson said of the sustained high volume of violent crime in Albuquerque. “It’s not something we should be accustomed to.”
He identified some factors behind the recent violent crime surge in Albuquerque and across the United States:
- COVID-19 related factors, like loss of employment and the general economic downturn, plus the closure of businesses, entertainment events, and leisure activities like sports
- Increased scrutiny of policing conduct
- Continued difficulty securing pre-trial detention for violent criminals
- Lack of effective tools for addressing violence by juvenile actors
- Persistent issues with drug and alcohol abuse
Anderson also pointed to a relatively recent influx of cheap methamphetamine to the U.S. from Mexico as a key driver of violent crime (more on that later).
Anderson described the federal “Operation Legend” program to the Board, which Albuquerque was selected to participate in when it launched in July. With its focus on violent crime, especially gun crime, the Operation’s goal is to support, not supplant, local law enforcement in making communities safer. Based on a task force model, which brings together multiple local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, it enables federal law enforcement to support local agencies with additional resources or manpower – including 35 additional federal agents in Albuquerque.
As part of the operation, $9.7 million has been made available to the City of Albuquerque for the hiring of 40 new police officers, though Anderson said the City has yet to take the funding due to concerns over requirements by the federal government that recipients of grant money agree to share information with federal immigration enforcement agencies. Conversations with the City are ongoing.
Anderson also described border and immigration enforcement efforts, noting just how rapidly the nature of illegal border crossings and type of substances being moved across the border can change. Illegal crossings are now being driven by predominantly single Mexican national males – not families, as was the case during the humanitarian crisis spurred by thousands of families seeking asylum just a few years ago.
Cartel activity has shifted recently as well. Jalisco New Generation Cartel, or CJNG, has now surpassed the Sinaloa Cartel, formerly headed by “El Chapo,” as the preeminent syndicate in Mexico. In addition to reigniting cartel violence – going so far as to cross a line respected nearly universally by cartel leaders when they attempted an assassination in Mexico City – CJNG primarily deals fentanyl and methamphetamine. As a result, the United States is experiencing a flood of cheap methamphetamine from “superlabs” in Mexico. Federal authorities are now seizing 20-100 pounds of the drug, where they once intercepted domestic shipments of only one or two pounds at a time; Anderson predicts methamphetamine will unseat opioids soon as the greatest drug threat in the country.
Ultimately, Anderson expressed confidence in the partnerships between federal and local law enforcement, saying they are among the greatest tools in getting crime under control. He praised the Albuquerque Police Department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department as being “excellent partners” and specifically praised the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office for their joint effort to prosecute more serious, violent offenders in the federal court system – where the likelihood of detaining the defendants pre-trial are much higher than in the state system and sentences are lengthier. Currently, there are two state prosecutors in D.A. Raul Torrez’s office who are designated as “Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys” to work these types of cases.
Anderson is the US Attorney for the District of New Mexico, the top federal law enforcement official in the state. Before his appointment, he served as an Assistant US Attorney in the District of New Mexico from 2008 to 2013.