ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The number of murders reported by New Mexico law enforcement agencies jumped by nearly 16 percent in 2015 from the year before, well above the percentage increase seen nationwide, according to data released Monday by the FBI.
New crime statistics show the estimated number of murders in New Mexico last year was 117, a 15.8 percent increase from 2014. The estimated number of murders nationwide in 2015 was 15,696, a 10.8 percent jump from the year before, the FBI said.
Overall violent crime in New Mexico jumped nearly 10 percent in 2015, compared with 3.9 percent nationally, the numbers show.
News of the violent crime surge comes as state lawmakers are expected to debate a push by Gov. Susana Martinez to reinstate the death penalty and toughening New Mexico’s “three strikes” law.
Prosecutors’ offices around the state say a budget crisis is forcing them to make cuts even as the load of criminal cases swells. Lawmakers are expected to tackle the estimated half a billion-dollar shortfall at an upcoming special session.
Fifth Judicial District Court District Attorney Diana Luce, whose southern New Mexico district covers Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties, said earlier this month that she was facing a budget crisis and would cut personnel.
Luce said her office prosecuted 6,595 cases during the last fiscal year, an increase of 249 cases.
Still, a spokesman for Martinez said the latest FBI statistics showed the state needed tougher criminal penalties to battle violent crime. “This is yet another reason legislators need to find the courage to get tough on crime and strengthen penalties against violent offenders,” said Michael Lonergan, a Martinez spokesman.
According to an analysis by The Associated Press, the troubled city of Espanola has one of the state’s highest violent crime rates per 100,000 residents. Espanola’s violent crime rate was 2,623.8, well above New Mexico’s rate of 656.1.
Espanola has a population of around 10,000 residents and has one of the highest rates of opioid overdoses in the country.
Meanwhile, the small border city of Sunland Park had one of the lowest crime rates in the state, according to the AP analysis. The bedroom community of 16,000 residents had a violent crime rate of 89.2.
Albuquerque, the state’s largest city, had a violent crime rate of 965.8. It saw a 43 percent spike in murders last year at 43, compared with 30 in 2014, the FBI said.
Albuquerque police spokeswoman Celina Espinoza said repeat, dangerous career criminals are frequently being released from our jails without any type of bond.
“Our laws are also lax when it comes to violent criminal acts and go often times not fully enforced through the judicial system,” she said.