A deadly robbery that took the life of an Albuquerque pizzeria owner was the backdrop for an announcement Wednesday that New Mexico is joining a 20-state network to gather data on organized retail crime.
Business and political leaders used a press conference as an opportunity to vent frustration with the criminal justice system and scarce funding for fighting retail crime.
Attorney General Hector Balderas estimated that organized retail crime costs New Mexico $1 billion a year and demands greater attention from legislators in the form of funding and stronger laws.
“It is more profitable now to go and steal from our local retailers than it is to sell drugs and guns in New Mexico,” Balderas said, flanked by Mayor Tim Keller and other business and law enforcement leaders. “Organized retail criminals are at the very top of the food chain.”
Retail crime is also driving increased violence as serial shoplifters have become more brazen and better organized, he said.
“Any one of our retailers, in the middle of broad daylight, can turn into a crime scene,” Balderas said. “We are talking about law enforcement being overwhelmed, employees being overwhelmed, and we’re talking about retailers being overwhelmed.”
Officials called the news conference to announce that New Mexico is joining a 20-state network used by businesses and law enforcement to track criminal activity in real time.
The platform, called the Auror retail crime platform, offers an online platform that allows retailers to quickly share security video, cellphone images and other information with law enforcement.
Bob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said the initiative — called the New Mexico Organized Crime Association — will allow statewide and multi-state sharing of crime data.
“The platform also uses artificial intelligence for predictive analysis based on patterns of when and where crimes are happening,” Black said.
Albuquerque Police Department Chief Harold Medina said the state needs more police officers and prosecutors, and the courts need more options for punishing retail thieves.
“This is about a system that has limitations for every level,” Medina said. “Every single process needs to be reviewed and we need to look and see how we’re going to fix it.”
Law enforcement stepped up arrests and prosecutions of organized retail crime, he said.
APD and the Attorney General’s Office have arrested 115 retail criminals since the two agencies announced a crackdown on organized retail crime in July 2021, Medina said.
Both Keller and Balderas lamented the failure of House Bill 29, called the retail crime bill, which called for stronger penalties for retail theft. The bill died in committee during the regular session this year.
“These are people who come out with boxes of drills,” Keller said. “They wield weaponry on the way out if anyone tries to stop them. And then they go peddle it for drug money. That is almost exactly the definition of organized crime.”
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, center, speaks at a news conference announcing a new online platform for fighting organized retail crime, as Mayor Tim Keller, left, and APD Chief Harold Medina listen. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)