Based on official FBI data, New Mexico had the highest overall crime rate of any state in the nation in 2019 before falling to ninth place nationwide and second in the country for violent crime in 2020. Last year, in 2021, New Mexico fell to 13th in the nation for overall per capita crime.
Despite this downward trend over the last couple of years, crime rates in New Mexico remain relatively high. Some New Mexico voters may see tomorrow’s election as an opportunity to enact positive change in their state.
Unfortunately, a lot of inaccurate information regarding candidates’ positions has circulated around during campaign season, mostly in the form of attack ads.
U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., is running for re-election in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District. Gabriel Vasquez is the Democratic challenger.
One ad inaccurately claims Herrell tried to make abortion illegal for rape victims while serving in the New Mexico state legislature. Another ad falsely claims Vasquez gave a fake name to a TV reporter during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Las Cruces in 2020.
As for the candidates’ true positions, Herrell voted against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. The legislation was meant to increase law enforcement accountability, restrict some policing practices and establish new training requirements.
As for Vasquez, he has not given a clear stance on crime and law enforcement. His website gives a vague description of change. He says he supports law enforcement, but he previously deleted tweets on the topic and he once rejected nearly $50,000 in police funding designed to support cooperation between border forces and local police.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, for her part, recently carried out a promise she made to help with crime. Law enforcement across New Mexico will be awarded $41.5 million over the next three years to hire more than 300 police officers.
Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti publicly supports the police, despite an attack ad claiming the opposite, and says he wants to put an end to the “catch and release system.” He has also said he would like to increase penalties for crimes.
Significantly reducing crime in New Mexico may be difficult for any candidate because of how long crime has been a problem in the state. Not only that, crime rates in New Mexico might actually be higher than the numbers suggest. NMSU criminal justice professor Dennis Giever indicated not all crime gets reported to the police. Giever said crimes like rape, sexual assault and burglaries are often underreported.
“You have to take data with a grain of salt, but you also have to recognize that for the most part it’s consistent when you look at a rise and/or fall [in crime trends],” Giever said.
Giever said solving the crime problem in New Mexico will require long-term solutions like investing in police education, providing better education for children, and realizing there is no quick fix. He stated crime is a generational problem and the leaders of tomorrow will have to make the biggest changes.
“It seems we elect the person that is the fastest talker or is the one that can convince people. I would look for somebody that is more of a visionary … [and is] really looking for long-term solutions. Throwing money here or there doesn’t help unless it’s looking at early childhood development, schools, education — those are things that have proven time after time to help people,” Giever said.
NMSU chief of police Andrew Bowen has seen an upward trend in on-campus crime, such as breaking into cars and stealing bicycles.
“One thing that we have seen in law enforcement recently is a frequent occurrence of multiple crimes being committed by the same person. Because people are released on bail, they come out and they commit the same type of infraction.”
The campus police department does not receive as many calls as LCPD does, but a pattern can be seen that correlates to a statewide problem. Bowen said he would like voters to look out for bail reform. Lastly, Bowen believes defunding police could lead to more problems because it would leave fewer people to provide a critical public service.
All voters are encouraged to consult votesmart.org in order to research candidates’ biographies, voting records, policy positions, ratings, speeches and funding. Votesmart.org is a nonpartisan organization. Its stated mission is “to provide free, factual, unbiased information on candidates and elected officials to all Americans.”
Additional Kokopelli staff members contributed to this report.