Securing the city
Broad strategy can improve law enforcement and the legal system
MARLA BROSE / JOURNAL APD officers investigate a violent crime in February 2017.

BY RA Ú L RAÚL TORREZ

BERNALILLO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY

As the District Attorney of Bernalillo County, reducing crime and improving public safety is my top priority. To that end, I have been actively engaged in recent public debates about the impact of rules governing pre-trial detention, the effects of substantially compressed timelines in our local courts and chronic under-investment in key institutions.

While the political discussion about these issues will continue well into next year's legislative session, it's important for the people of this community to know that the District Attorney's Office is not waiting to act. We are actively solving problems that have impaired our criminal justice system for decades.

For example, we are breaking down the organizational silos and communication barriers that are the product of fragmented and incompatible data systems utilized by local police, prosecutors and the courts. With seed funding and assistance from Bloomberg Philanthropies via the ABQ i-team and an executive on loan from Sandia National Laboratories, we are building the foundation for a new Crime Strategies Unit ( CSU ) within the District Attorney's Office. This groundbreaking unit will use an integrated data platform to conduct real-time crime analysis, identify otherwise unknown criminal organizations or emerging crime patterns, and flag high-impact offenders for focused deterrence.

By fully embracing this data-driven approach to prosecution, improving our rules of criminal procedure, and fully funding core institutions, I know that we can dramatically improve both the fairness and efficiency of our criminal justice system. While absolutely necessary, however, these steps alone are not sufficient to deliver the kind of safe, healthy and prosperous community we deserve. To achieve that goal, we must commit ourselves to the much more difficult, generational challenge of attacking the root causes of crime and making early, more cost-effective investments in long-term public safety.

That is why I am also dedicating resources in my office, in partnership with leaders in the private and nonprofit sectors, to addressing what the data show is one of the most important drivers of crime in this community : early childhood trauma.

Traumatic experiences including physical abuse, the incarceration of a parent, and drug addiction in the household are profoundly harmful to developing brains. Left undiagnosed and untreated, these adverse childhood experiences, or ACES, result in high rates of drug addiction, antisocial behavior and an increased risk of contact with the criminal justice system. In fact, a recent study by Associate Professor Yael Cannon from UNM Law School and Dr. Andy Hsi from the UNM Department of Pediatric Medicine concluded that the ACES score for incarcerated kids in Bernalillo County was " off the charts " compared to other communities around the country, with 75 percent of boys and 86 percent of girls reporting five or more traumatic childhood experiences before their incarceration.

These findings demonstrate the urgent need to include the prevention and mitigation of early childhood trauma as part of a long-term strategy to improve not only public health, but also public safety. That is why I am partnering with the United Way of Central New Mexico to develop a bold new initiative that focuses, among other things, on identifying and stabilizing vulnerable families before tragedy strikes. Our goal is to make early, targeted interventions through new and existing programs to help our most vulnerable children stay in school, stay out of the criminal justice system and become productive members of this community.

There is no denying that we desperately need more resources within the criminal justice system in order to get a handle on the current crisis. But the truth is that police officers and prosecutors should be the last resort, not the first line of defense when it comes to building a safer community. That's why I encourage other elected officials, business leaders, community groups and concerned citizens to look at the data and do more for traumatized children who need our help today, before they give rise to the public safety crisis of tomorrow.