Various law enforcement agencies participated in a September morning raid in the South Valley that netted millions in cash and fentanyl pills. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/ Albuquerque Journal)
Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that she asked twice in the last four months for additional FBI agents to help address a shortage of law enforcement officers in New Mexico.
Her most-recent letter – issued Sept. 15 – was addressed to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, appealing directly for his help after the FBI turned down her request in June for an additional 50 agents.
New Mexico, the governor said, is devoting enormous resources to growing its police force but needs federal help to alleviate the strain on local officers.
The release of the letters Wednesday came as Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, faces relentless criticism on the campaign trail from her Republican opponent, Mark Ronchetti, who has highlighted New Mexico’s high violent crime rate – No. 2 in the nation in 2020.
His campaign on Wednesday called Lujan Grisham’s letters “a desperate attempt by the governor to distract attention away from her failed record on crime.”
In the two letters, Lujan Grisham outlined a host of steps New Mexico has taken to boost the number of officers, including 16% raises for State Police this year and a $50 million officer recruitment fund that’s intended to support the hiring of 300 more officers throughout the state.
The number of law enforcement officers has increased in recent years, she said, but remains below the national average.
“The shortage of law enforcement officers presents a particular problem for New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham wrote to Garland. “Geographically, our state is the fifth largest state and has one of the higher poverty rates in the country. Therefore, our resources to combat the national surge in violent crime are very limited.”
An expanded FBI presence in Buffalo, New York, she said, had succeeded in reducing homicides there.
In the letter to Garland, she noted that the FBI had responded to her June request by saying the agency didn’t have the resources to send additional agents to New Mexico. She had requested at least 50.
A recent Legislative Finance Committee analysis found that the number of law enforcement officers working for city, county and state governments in New Mexico grew just 1.8% in the 10-year period ending in June 2021. New Mexico would need to add roughly 400 more officers to reach the national average per capita, according to the LFC.
In a written statement, state House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said the governor’s letters show she is “all but admitting that she is incapable of managing one of her core duties as Governor – keeping New Mexicans safe.”
Ronchetti campaign spokesman Ryan Sabel said Wednesday that Lujan Grisham deserves blame for the level of crime. She has appointed judges who aren’t tough on crime, Sabel said, and authorized the early release of prisoners who later committed new offenses.
“The system is broken in New Mexico because she is a catch-and-release governor,” Sabel said.
Some of the criticism centers on a 2020 executive order that – over the following two years – authorized more than 700 inmates to be released early from prison due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The releases were contingent on the inmate meeting specific criteria, including that they were already scheduled for release within the next 30 days.
Of the 708 individuals released, nine of them violated conditions of release between their release and original projected release date, according to the Corrections Department.
The governor rescinded the release order last week.