Jonathan Sakura looked at the spot where his car was parked outside his home a couple nights ago when someone smashed the rear window and grabbed his girlfriend’s bag. "It’s a bummer. It’s violating," he said. "You know, this is our property. This is our stuff. And somebody taking something that doesn’t belong to them— it’s kinda disheartening, and morale drops a little bit."
It’s a rainy morning in this Northeast Heights neighborhood that he describes as feeling pretty safe most of the time. Campaign signs line the major streets nearby. And in 10 years living there, he hasn’t had any problems like this. His partner’s a teacher, and the bag that was stolen contained classroom supplies. "It becomes a huge to-do with insurance," he said. "And like there’s so much extra leg work now involved that we have to do to get things set back on track, when two days ago they were just fine."
Crime has been folded into the messaging pretty heavily this election cycle, and it’s not the first time. There’s usually a couple of major threads: Law enforcement crackdowns and keeping criminals behind bars, and also big-picture solutions like substance abuse treatment and education.
Sakura said he’s not expecting a surefire solution from political candidates. Crime is a complicated problem. "I think educating people and treating people well is hugely important," he said. "But I also think that it’s important that when somebody does something wrong that there’s due punishment. I don’t know if I believe that ruining somebody’s life is always for the better, but I think it has to be sort of addressed accordingly."
Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Democratic candidate for governor, is talking about focusing on violent crime and repeat offenders. Steve Pearce, her Republican opponent, is emphasizing reducing recidivism, and coordinating law enforcement departments around the state.
Harold Medina is a Deputy Chief at the Albuquerque Police Department. He’s behind his desk at the station comparing the numbers this year so far to the same time frame in 2017. Looking at how many police reports are filed, APD says there were hundreds fewer car break-ins, car thefts, and home and business burglaries. Violent crime is falling, too, according to APD, though not as drastically.
"We still have extremely high crime rates, but I think it’s important to note that we are starting to see decreases in crimes across the board in a lot of areas," he said.
Medina’s glad candidates are emphasizing crime, he said, because it brings awareness to the problem. "I’m hoping that we’re able to get increased funding not only from the city of Albuquerque but also the state of New Mexico."
APD's asked for more funding before, but this time the emphasis is on long-term solutions, Medina said. "We’re sitting down. We’re developing partnerships."
It’s not just about arresting people who commit crimes, and making sure they go to jail, though of course that’s important, Medina said. It’s about the overall health of the community and stopping cycles of incarceration before they start.
State Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels said most people in New Mexico have been affected by crime. "I’ve been a victim of crime," he said. "I know the feeling when you walk into your house and the front door’s been busted down and someone’s been rummaging through your private items."
Daniels said campaigns leverage those kinds of hard feelings. For instance, some politicians are saying recent changes to the criminal justice system caused more crime. But, he points out, the falling crime rates say otherwise. "Sometimes truth is left by the wayside in political races. And fear is the main motivator. That’s why you see these dark ads that have nothing to do with the truth on a range of issues."
You can’t say responsibly yet that the drop in crime rates is a result of the reforms, Daniels said, because there’s not enough info. "We all want our legislators, our judges, our executives—all the people we elect to office to study reality and make their decisions in representing us based on the real picture," he said, "not on what hunches we might have or what lies we may have been told."
Like Jonathan Sakura, Justice Daniels said it’s a multi-faceted problem, and a single politician can’t dream up a silver bullet. But the system statewide, he says, can get smarter.
Early voting ends on Saturday, and Election Day is Tuesday.