New Mexico law enforcement is expected to receive enough state funding to support the hiring of 317 officers under a bipartisan crime-fighting package passed by lawmakers this year.
At a press conference on Friday, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for re-election this fall, said awarding about $42 million to 29 departments will help pay officers’ salaries over the next few years. next three years.
The goal, she said, is to provide enough money for strong recruiting in cities large and small, avoiding competition between agencies.
“What New Mexicans deserve is to be safe in their homes and in their communities statewide,” Lujan Grisham said.
Albuquerque and Las Cruces are expected to receive the largest allocations — nearly $8.8 million to help pay 67 officers in each city. Hobbs is next, with $5 million for 38 officers.
Bernalillo County has enough for 18 MPs.
The announcement comes as public safety is on the minds of voters ahead of the Nov. 8 election. In a recent Journal poll, 82% of likely voters described crime as a “very serious” problem facing the state.
Mark Ronchetti, Lujan Grisham’s Republican opponent, has made tackling crime a centerpiece of his campaign, saying he will seek tougher sentences and appoint tougher judges.
“We’re at a crisis point,” Ronchetti said in a campaign appearance on Friday. “We need to create safer streets.”
Lujan Grisham, in turn, touted higher salaries for state police officers and other measures to increase funding for law enforcement.
To that end, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said he sees reason for optimism. The incoming cadet class for December, he said, is expected to number 67, significantly more than the typical group of 37 to 50.
“This is funding we can use right now,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said.
Cities and counties have identified their needs in funding requests, which come from the state’s $8.5 billion budget. The money will be used to pay the officers’ full salary the first year, 50% the second and 25% the third year.
Increasing the number of police officers in New Mexico is a key part of the anti-crime strategy pursued in recent years by Capitol policymakers.
Bipartisan crime legislation passed this year established a new state program to help law enforcement recruit and retain officers. The main state budget bill included $50 million to support the effort.
Lawmakers have heard expert testimony that increasing police presence in a community reduces violent crime and that quick and certain penalties are a more effective deterrent to crime than longer prison sentences.
But progress has been slow. The number of law enforcement officers working for city, county and state governments grew just 1.8% in a recent 10-year period, Committee analysts say finance legislation.
New Mexico, in fact, would need to add about 400 more officers to hit the national average per capita, according to LFC research.
Some local government leaders in New Mexico have expressed frustration with the difficulties they face in filling and retaining law enforcement ranks.
Española Mayor John Ramon Vigil said this week at the opening of a new police station that his northern New Mexico town currently has 24 officers — out of 33 budgeted police stations.
Part of the challenge of hiring new officers stems from Española’s proximity to the Santa Fe National Laboratory and Los Alamos, which has its own security force that pays officers at a higher salary level, Vigil said. .
Dan Boyd of the Capitol Bureau Journal contributed to this article.