COMMENTARY: Our community is at a crossroads. The senseless killing of four-year-old Lilly Garcia and the tragic loss of Officer Daniel Webster – one of APD’s very best – are stark reminders of the crisis in our criminal justice system. And once again, we find ourselves united in grief, struggling to comprehend why our community has become so dangerous and asking what, if anything, can be done?
As we search for answers, we must be careful not to allow our anger and disappointment in the system to overwhelm our larger objective or obscure the fact that, together, we can solve this problem.
And to do that, we must start by looking within and having the confidence to reclaim our future by creating a tough, bold and thoroughly modern criminal-justice system that not only keeps us safe, but also makes us proud.
To accomplish that goal, we must fully embrace the integrated, data-driven approach to policing and prosecution that has had a dramatic impact on the rate of violent crime in cities across the country. As we have seen from recent experience, one of the most difficult aspects of law enforcement derives from the lack of timely information about defendants being shared between community members, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors.
As a consequence, violent offenders – or those with a high likelihood to engage in violence – get lost in the crushing caseload that is the hallmark of virtually every criminal justice system in America.
Fortunately, we can tackle this problem by adopting the same information technology that has transformed every other aspect of our daily lives. In places like New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco police departments and district attorneys have been leading a quiet revolution in law enforcement by integrating and analyzing data from multiple law enforcement databases, internal case-management systems, and probation and parole records.
Combining this information with real-time analysis of social media platforms and intelligence derived from concerned citizens, police and prosecutors are able to develop a comprehensive database of high-risk offenders, dangerous criminal organizations and potential hot spots that have an outsized impact on local crime patterns.
Armed with this information, police and prosecutors are then able to efficiently deploy their limited resources in a way that prioritizes high-risk offenders, even when they come into the system facing relatively low-level offenses. This in turn allows prosecutors to make informed decisions during bail hearings, plea negotiations and sentencing.
Perhaps more importantly, this intelligence-driven approach also enables law enforcement professionals to take proactive steps to reduce and deter violent crime before it occurs.
In addition, we also need to fully implement a community prosecution strategy and assign senior-level prosecutors to specific neighborhoods within Bernalillo County. Working hand-in-hand with their partners at APD and BCSO, this approach will give prosecutors an overview of the unique crime patterns of every neighborhood within our broader community, while simultaneously providing members of the public with a transparent view of our investigative and prosecutorial priorities.
Finally, we must establish a Major Crimes Unit within the District Attorney’s Office that prioritizes not just specific types of crime but also specific offenders. With the primary goal of reducing violent crime throughout our community, this unit should be staffed with our most experienced prosecutors who, utilizing comprehensive data analysis and community based intelligence, can prioritize high-risk offenders whenever they interact with the criminal justice system.
To be clear, the data-driven, community oriented approach I have outlined above will not address every aspect of our criminal justice system, which is still woefully under-resourced. However, it is perhaps the most important evolution in law enforcement over the last 25 years and should be implemented without delay.
The only thing left for us to do now is to find the grace to recognize what is not working, the courage to accept our collective responsibility for solving this problem and the strength to start building the future we all deserve.
Torrez, a Democrat, is running for district attorney in New Mexico’s Second Judicial District in Bernalillo County next year.