At a press event yesterday, Bernalillo County District Attorney announced a new focus on shoplifting and organized retail crime, along with new tools and strategies for fighting them.
A new state law allows for misdemeanor shoplifting cases to be aggregated so they can be prosecuted as felonies; it also creates a new crime of organized retail crime to prosecute more coordinated criminal efforts.
In July, Bregman said, his office charged 12 cases under this new law, and in August, another 11 cases were charged. Additionally, his office made five motions for pretrial detention and four were granted, an improved rate of motions being granted that suggests prosecutors are making strong arguments in favor of detention.
Furthermore, the DA’s Office will begin entering its appearance on each of these misdemeanor cases. Up until last month, Bregman said, misdemeanor shoplifting cases were primarily prosecuted by sworn officers, who are often overwhelmed and ill-equipped to build cases and see them through the judicial process. As a result, the 662 misdemeanors charged last year saw a shockingly low 15% conviction rate. Reassigning this work to prosecutors will lead to stronger cases and more convictions where the evidence supports it – and more officers back on the streets where they belong.
New resources are key in enabling the DA’s Office to do this work, Bregman said. His office has hired 40 new attorneys in recent months, with 14 dedicated to DWI and domestic violence cases. It’s these prosecutors who will take on these misdemeanor cases. He said that while he would value even larger ranks of attorneys, 14 are sufficient. “We can handle it,” he said.
“This office will hold people accountable,” Bregman said. His team will prioritize diversion and treatment for those who need it, namely those whose shoplifting is motivated by an immediate need for money to sustain an addiction, but he emphasized there will be consequences for repeat offenders – especially those who work in organized crime rings.
At the event, Bregman was surrounded by representatives of the law enforcement and business communities, including Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina and Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen.
GACC President and CEO Terri Cole was present as well; in her comments, Cole emphasized the business community’s united support in fighting shoplifting and organized retail crime. Not only are these instances of shoplifting demoralizing for the public and retail employees alike, but they have a cumulative effect on the businesses that are repeatedly targeted for this criminal activity, a trend that ripples through the local economy. “We stand with the DA,” she said.
However, many of the DA’s partners agreed there is still more work to do. New Mexico Representative Marian Matthews, the primary sponsor of the organized retail crime legislation that became law this year, said stronger laws are necessary to act as a deterrent, but increased resources to fight the behavioral health and substance abuse challenges that underlie these crimes are also necessary.