ALBUQUERQUE – A crime wave in New Mexico’s largest city brought a rise in homicides in 2015, with early figures showing the number of killings in Albuquerque increased by about 53 percent compared with the previous year.
Preliminary figures released by police show officers investigated at least 46 homicides in 2015, up from 30 in 2014 that officials say had marked a record low for the city.
An analysis showed that the homicides in Albuquerque in 2015 brought the highest number of new cases for the city since 2009, when there were a total of 56 homicide cases.
“It is unacceptable to me, especially when some of these may have been avoided if repeat violent offenders were not allowed back on our streets,” said Mayor Richard Berry, who took office in December 2009. “APD does an outstanding job of solving homicides. Unfortunately our officers find themselves re-arresting the same violent criminals who are doing harm in our community when they should be in jail.”
In recent months, Berry and others repeatedly have said career criminals are to blame for much of the violent crime in Albuquerque, and are lobbying for tough-on-crime legislation that would lead to stricter sentencing laws for repeat offenders.
Sentencing reforms backed by Berry include a mandatory-minimum sentencing provision that would bar judges from suspending or deferring more than 15 percent of sentences for criminals convicted of voluntary manslaughter and other serious violent offenses. Meanwhile, proposed enhancements to the state’s “three strikes” law would expand the list of felonies that make a criminal with three or more violent crime convictions eligible for life sentences behind bars.
Nearly all of the homicides cases in 2015 involved suspects with previous violent crime arrests on their records, said Albuquerque police spokeswoman Celina Espinoza.
But and prosecutor who ran for mayor against Berry, said sentencing legislation alone would not help the city cut down on violent crime and homicides, which in 2015 included the shooting deaths of 4-year-old Lilly Garcia, during a road-rage dispute in October, and Officer Daniel Webster, who was gunned down a day later.
Dinelli said the city has been slow to implement reforms that would ramp up police staffing from about 850 sworn officers on staff now to the 1,000 that an independent analysis said the city needs.
“Trying to blame Santa Fe and low sentencing is not going to solve the problem,” Dinelli said. “I think this has a lot to do with the fact that you have a department that is struggling to reform itself and is severely understaffed.”
Police and city leaders released a plan in December that they say could put the department in position to have 1,000 officers within two years. But Dinelli and others question whether even 1,000 officers would be enough for fighting crime in a city of Albuquerque’s size.
Shaun Willoughby, acting president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said APD should launch a major recruiting initiative to counter attrition rates that have been propelled by as many as 60 officers retiring each year, with sometimes only about 20 joining the force.
“We have told city leadership that this is going to happen for years,” Willoughby said. “We’re on record saying this is the consequence of not having enough police officers.”