If ever there was a year for get-tough-on-crime legislation in New Mexico, you’d think it would be 2022. Legislators on both sides of the aisle lined up their bills and the governor had her own pet projects that she noted in her State of the State address. Yet, many bills faltered, and finally an omnibus crime bill (meaning a bill incorporating several different pieces of legislation) passed at the eleventh hour leaving citizens confused what was actually passed.

I think for me the biggest surprise was the immediate pushback to the rebuttable presumption legislation introduced by veteran law enforcement officer Rep. William Rehm (R-31). This legislation would have passed the burden of proof to the defense for pretrial confinement in the case of certain violent offenses or habitual/repeat offenders. In other words, there would be a “rebuttable presumption” that in certain cases the accused posed a risk to the community requiring incarceration before trial.

Such legislation makes sense when we have crazy crime sprees happening in New Mexico, seemingly on a weekly basis. Here in the East Mountains, many of us living in Tijeras sheltered in place earlier this month after a drug-addled couple being chased by a State Police officer crashed their car near the Sedillo Hill overpass, shot the officer and took off on foot. The male suspect was a prior offender who had cut off his ankle monitor and had been on the lam for several months.

The couple was eventually located at a home in McIntosh, and the location yielded two other arrests from vehicles leaving the same home—one a stolen vehicle full of drugs whose driver also had a gun, and led law enforcement on a chase all the way into Albuquerque that resulted in a crash with two other vehicles.

The same weekend, another career offender took off on a BMX bike from downtown and headed east on Central and stabbed 11 people before he was finally apprehended nearly three hours later in southeast Albuquerque. This past Sunday night, a man, yet to be apprehended, stole three cars and kidnapped three women in a crime spree up and down I-25 on Albuquerque’s south side.

So rebuttable presumption—keeping repeat offenders and violent offenders behind bars until trial unless the defense proves otherwise—should be no-brainer, right? Oh, dear reader. This is New Mexico. It can’t be that straightforward.

All of the cases cited here would fall under the purview of the 2nd District Attorney, Raul Torres. Mr. Torres, well, isn’t very good. His predecessor also wasn’t very good. Finding qualified candidates to run for Bernalillo County DA is akin to finding volunteers to clean the erasers after third grade.

So to be fair, Torres didn’t inherit a smooth, oiled prosecutorial machine when he took office. But neither did he improve it. Notably, he incarcerated a suspect in the Victoria Martens case for over a year when he knew he didn’t have the evidence to place him at the murder scene.

Perhaps more shockingly, Torres completely washed his hands of the case of the four Albuquerque Police Department officers shot by an armed robbery suspect, James Ramirez, last August. Rather than standing up for his hometown law enforcement team, Torres dismissed all charges from local authorities, determining it would be best for Ramirez to be tried in federal court on a single charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Torres held press conferences in support of rebuttable presumption; with its defeat he has complained that the Legislature is making his “job harder.” In reality, he’s complaining that the Legislature failed to make his job easier.

In the cases of the couple involved in the Sedillo Hill shooting and and the BMX stabbing suspect, all suspects are detained pending trial under current state law. So it can be done, if the DA applies himself.

Then there are questions about the fidelity of local law enforcement in some communities. Case in point: The undersheriff of Rio Arriba County taking a plea deal this month. The charge? Aggravated assault on a peace officer, stemming from a 2020 incident where he ordered his officers to draw their weapons against peace officers from Taos County and Española executing a search warrant against his boss, the sheriff.

More police-to-police conspiracy: the death of Santa Fe Police officer Jonathan Harmon’s 2-year old son. The toddler died in December. After a 911 call reporting a fall from a chair, and “a lot of blood,” a projectile and shell casing were found near the boy’s body. The Rio Rancho Police Department, which reported to the scene, is silent. Along with the Santa Fe Police Department, RRPD has declined to name the child or the parents. No charges have been filed.

Voters in New Mexico are screaming for better protection from violent crime. Legislation can only get us so far. Until we have trust in the criminal justice system, which will take more resources, ethical leaders and competent management, crime reform through legislative innovation is another luxury beyond our reach.

Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at news.ind.merritt@gmail.com.