A generational commitment is needed to solve New Mexico's safety issues, attorney general says
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It will take a generational commitment to solve New Mexico's public safety problems, the state's top prosecutor said Friday, urging policymakers to listen to those on the ground who are working with people in need of mental health services.
Attorney General Raúl Torrez spent hours listening to providers and other experts from around the state. It was the second such summit Torrez had hosted. The first in September brought together law enforcement officers and prosecutors to share ideas for curbing violent crime.
The meetings come as New Mexico continues to grapple with a crime rate that remains well above the national average. Torrez said most violent crime has its roots in child abuse and neglect, substance abuse and intergenerational trauma — all problems that are addressed now in silos, with professionals working separately.
He and others talked about breaking down those silos and reducing bureaucracy in order to get people the help they need before they end up in the criminal justice system or dead.
"This is going to be a long and complicated and intensive effort," Torrez said at the summit. "It has to be if it's going to be successful."
The attorney general's office said it plans to use what has been learned during the meetings to make recommendations to the governor and state lawmakers in hopes of creating a comprehensive public safety package ahead of the legislative session in January.
The session will be focused on budget issues, and Torrez said there will be no shortage of resources that lawmakers can funnel toward more efficient programs as New Mexico stands to see another financial windfall from record-breaking oil and gas production.
Nick Boukas, director of the Behavioral Health Services Division within the state Human Services Department, said more conversations like the ones had Friday are needed to figure out how New Mexico can do things better. He said he speaks with his counterparts in other states every month to share lessons learned.
Dominic Cappello, co-founder of the Anna, Age Eight Institute at New Mexico State University, said each state and how it takes care of its most vulnerable populations can be considered as separate social experiments, with some doing better jobs than others.
He pointed to annual rankings put out by The Annie E. Casey Foundation that are based on indicators related to child wellbeing. He acknowledged that New Mexico is usually last and that there are things to learn from states in the top 10.
"There's all the research in the world out there on what you do," he said, referring to addressing social determinants of health. "Some states invest more in this and others don't. So it really comes down to that."
Mental health providers who were at the summit said lawmakers are universally supportive of making it easier for people in their communities to access services.
"Republican, Democrat — it doesn't matter. Everybody wants this in their community," said David Ley, president of the New Mexico Behavioral Health Providers Association. "I think we just need to be able to give them the answers and ideas."