Newly sworn-in Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez met with Chamber leadership last week to discuss some of the challenges he faces as the DA of New Mexico's most populous county and his plans to reorganize the DA's office.
Torrez laid out some startling, but unfortunately not surprising statistics on the condition of crime in the city and state. His said NM ranks second in the nation in property crime and Albuquerque has the highest rate of auto theft in the country. Our state fares just as poorly when it comes to violent crime--third in the nation. Robberies have increased by 22% and murder and non-negligent homicide has increased by 43% with one of the highest number of murders Albuquerque has seen in 20 years.
Torrez stressed his belief that crime and public safety are the most pressing issues facing the community and acknowledged their impacts on economic development. “Public safety is economic development, you cannot have one without the other,” he said.
So despite a budget underfunded by about $6 million and higher-than-recommended staff vacancies, Torrez said he's moving forward with change.
He said his office will adjust its strategy to 'impact prosecution' or 'money ball prosecution'--a data driven approach which will focus on high-risk, repeat offenders.
"The goal of the reorganization is to find as many Andrew Romeros before they have an opportunity to kill (officers like) Officer Gregg Benner. "It's the 80/20 rule; 20% of our people in the criminal justice system are driving 80% of the crime, we just don't know who they are," he said. "There's no unified list in my office...that says these are the top 500 people we're going to focus on.
Torrez's reorganization seeks to correct that void.
Impact prosecution has four pillars. It's:
data driven and prioritizes cases based upon an empirical assessment of the risk a defendant presents and allocates prosecutorial resources accordingly;
community oriented, so prosecution teams are assigned to specific geographic areas and are tasked with developing tailored crime reductions strategies for those neighborhoods;
vertically integrated, which makes line prosecutors responsible for specific defendants from the beginning to end of the case;
incorporates focused deterrence, which makes prosecutors responsible for assessing, prosecuting and driving outcomes for individual defendants, "ownership."
Torrez said the current traditional prosecution model organizes defendants by type of crime rather than by the defendant him or herself. It's not uncommon for a defendant to see multiple prosecutors if they're being charged with different crimes. "We're not making a broad-based assessment on criminals who are coming in on both sides of the building," he said.
With the new system there will be one attorney assigned to each offender so repeat offenders see the same attorney each time. This will allow the prosecutors a greater level of familiarity with defendants. Similar data- and analytics-focused strategies are already in play throughout the country and are seeing successes.
Torrez stressed the urgency of the new structure but acknowledged that it would take some time to refresh the existing culture. "It's a slow and deliberate process," he said.
Torrez urged the Chamber's board of directors to speak up. “The Chief (Gorden Eden) and I, and other members of the criminal justice system can’t do this alone, we have to have the engagement, active involvement of leaders in the community like you,” he said.
We would like to thank Raul Torrez for presenting to our board last week! We were impressed with the Mr. Torrez's approach and strategy and look forward to working with the DA's office.