New Mexico candidates hone in on crime as Election Day nears

October 31, 2018
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U.S. Congressman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce calls for cooperation across local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to address crime in New Mexico during a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. Pearce, who has been endorsed by the Albuquerque police officers' union and 21 sheriffs from around the state, proposed creating a task force that would be led by lieutenant governor candidate Michelle Garcia Holmes, who has worked 30 years as a commissioned officer. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Up and down the ballot, candidates on both sides of the aisle who are running for everything from New Mexico’s top political post to legislative and judicial seats are capitalizing on the long-festering issue of crime as they hope to win over undecided voters in the sprint to Election Day.

“In New Mexico, crime is out of control,” U.S. Congressman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce declared during a news conference Tuesday.

With the leader of the largest police officers’ union in the state and other law enforcement officers standing at his side, Pearce said if elected he would form a task force of local, state and federal agencies with the aim of establishing a more coordinated response.

Pearce said crimes against women are among the worst and that he would appoint lieutenant governor candidate Michelle Garcia Holmes to head the effort because she has three decades of experience as a law enforcement officer, including working cases in one of Albuquerque’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Pearce has the endorsement of the Albuquerque police union along with 21 sheriffs from around the state.

Democratic challenger Michelle Lujan Grisham also has highlighted crime as an issue, calling for a crackdown on violence with a focus on repeat offenders and keeping those in jail who are determined to be most dangerous.

Albuquerque has made headlines in recent years for its high rates of crime and a rash of cases involving children. But some of the officers and attorneys supporting Pearce said New Mexico’s rural departments have had to grapple with their own share of high-profile cases. That includes Cibola County, where the leader of a paramilitary religious sect was recently convicted in a child sex abuse case, and far northern New Mexico, where Taos County authorities raided a ramshackle compound last summer and discovered the remains of a young boy who had been dead for months.

Pearce said he wants to create a “war room” of sorts in one location with offices for local authorities as well as the U.S. Justice Department and FBI.

While New Mexico’s next governor and the Legislature will have a significant budget surplus to work with as they set spending priorities, Pearce said Tuesday it will take more than money to fix the state’s crime problems.

In Albuquerque, officials announced this week that a new leadership council of law enforcement, government, researchers and community groups will be established with the help of a $1 million grant from the federal government. The council will focus on the southeast part of the city.