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Legislature focuses on training, deterrence to fight crime

February 16, 2022 GMT
Light fades outside the New Mexico State Capitol on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, in Santa Fe, N.M., as the Legislature debates record-setting proposals for spending increases on everything from state police salaries to shelter for the homeless and election administration. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
Light fades outside the New Mexico State Capitol on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, in Santa Fe, N.M., as the Legislature debates record-setting proposals for spending increases on everything from state police salaries to shelter for the homeless and election administration. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
Light fades outside the New Mexico State Capitol on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, in Santa Fe, N.M., as the Legislature debates record-setting proposals for spending increases on everything from state police salaries to shelter for the homeless and election administration. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
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Light fades outside the New Mexico State Capitol on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, in Santa Fe, N.M., as the Legislature debates record-setting proposals for spending increases on everything from state police salaries to shelter for the homeless and election administration. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
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Light fades outside the New Mexico State Capitol on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, in Santa Fe, N.M., as the Legislature debates record-setting proposals for spending increases on everything from state police salaries to shelter for the homeless and election administration. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico legislators have bundled together initiatives aimed at reducing violent crime and improving policing with an emphasis on police hiring and training as well as tracking excessive force incidents. The move came amid calls from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for a crackdown on urban crime and violence.

A Senate panel on criminal justice continued to refine the bulging crime package on Tuesday with time running out on a 30-day legislative session that ends Thursday at noon.

The centerpiece bill would expand the ranks of state district judges, boost retention pay for municipal police and sheriff’s deputies and bestow million-dollar death benefits for relatives of police killed in the line of duty — four times the current amount.

Supporters have said the bill would ensure robust training at New Mexico’s Law Enforcement Academy to help officers cope better with stress, interactions with the homeless, techniques for de-escalating violence and modern-day racial sensitivities.

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That would come hand-in-hand with new accountability measures, as authorities compile a database of excessive force incidents involving police and related sanctions including firings and de-certifications.

The legislative package was assembled amid tough-on-crime proposals from the governor including enhanced penalties for some violent offenses and a prohibition on pretrial release for charges of severe violent or sexual crimes.

Many legislators in the Democratic majority so far have shunned the proposal to strictly limit pretrial release, instead focusing on ways to improve monitoring of defendants through ankle-bracelet locators. And some enhanced penalties appear to have fallen by the wayside — including stiffer sentences for second-degree murder.

Another component of the law would expand a gun violence reduction program, pioneered in Albuquerque, that focuses on deterrence measures for people likely to fall into cycles of violence.

Democratic Sens. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces, Natalie Figueroa of Albuquerque and Meredith Dixon of Albuquerque are sponsoring the legislation.

In a vote Tuesday afternoon, a Senate committee added enhanced penalties for violent crimes, and new criminal definitions for chop shops and theft of metal, like stripping copper wiring from homes and construction sites.

The measures passed without objection, despite some hesitation.

“My gut tells me that we shouldn’t be increasing the felonies at all, in the absence of any evidence it’s worked, and the fact that we’ve done it twice in two years already, but I understand it’s an election year,” Cervantes said.

The legislation sets out requirements for crime reduction grants that pursue alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration, with requirements for regular performance reviews.

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Cedar Attanasio contributed reporting. Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.