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Concerns over bail reform continue to be voiced in Las Cruces

Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart says New Mexico has strayed from what bail reform was aiming to accomplish.
Noah Raess (Screenshot)
Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart says New Mexico has strayed from what bail reform was aiming to accomplish.

Vic Villalobos loves dogs. So much so that his two businesses, Fetching Designs and Las Cruces Dock Diving, are either dog oriented or themed. However, in recent months, Villalobos has experienced some challenges that have left him barking up a storm over property crime.

“We have seen probably the biggest increase in crime over the last 4-5 years when it really started growing especially with all of the vagrants and homeless that we see around us. That's really when it first started but we deal with it on probably a weekly basis between the two businesses,” said Villalobos.

 Villalobos says his security cameras caught the moment when a man broke into multiple businesses including his.

“They broke in, they vandalized I think they pooped in one of the places and then we caught him inside of ours,” Villalobos said.

Security cameras captured the business owned by Vic Villalobos being vandalized.
Courtesy footage.
Security cameras captured the business owned by Vic Villalobos being vandalized.

Villalobos said the police then took the man into custody. This was far from the first time the man in the video has had run-ins with the law. Through a public records request, KRWG found that since May of 2023, he has been arrested twelve times on charges ranging from shoplifting and burglary to battery and assault on a peace officer. Villalobos says that much of this re-offending can be traced back to a 2016 amendment to the New Mexico constitution.

“The real issue is that I think the bail reform started in 2016 and it makes it where the judge is just making the decisions. Heck I don't even know if some of these guys are getting in front of a judge. The guy that broke into our offices, he had broken into other offices at 7:00 in the morning and then broke into our place at 10:30 in the morning so he had already been released at that point,” Villalobos said.

Las Cruces Residents and Officials Continue to Voice Concerns Over Bail Reform

In fact, that same man spent less than 24 hours in jail six different times with his shortest stint being 37 minutes. Villalobos is not the only one raising concerns about bail reform. During a press conference on how to improve public safety since the killing of LCPD Officer Jonah Hernandez, police chief Jeremy Story said that addressing bail reform was a priority.

“The premise was people should not be held in jail for minor offenses for six months eight months because of an inability to pay a small bond. I don't disagree with that notion but the problem is we went from keeping potentially too many people in jail to keeping almost nobody in jail,” Story said.

Doña Ana county Sheriff Kim Stewart shares a similar view. She says that while the original intent of not holding average people in jail because they cannot pay bail was good, the state has strayed from that.

“We ended up with a very strict matrix about what they can release on and what they can't release on. A lot of it centers on danger to the public, imminent danger. We have ended up with a very strange scenario where if you have beaten your wife or husband you are not considered a danger to the public,” Stewart said.

Noah Raess (Screenshot)
Boxes of files at the public defenders office in Las Cruces.

Not everyone views bail reform in the same light, such as district defender Kris Knutson.

“If you are holding people and they are presumed innocent, then you are holding people who are presumed innocent in jail. We are already calling them guilty,” Knutson said.

According to Knutson, the overall system is a step in the right direction.

“Before 2016, you would have people that were probably a danger to the community in some cases but the judge would issue a $20,000-$50,000 bond and some of those people would bond out. So, you had people who had long criminal records and were a danger and they were released into the community,” Knutson said.

A study done by the University of New Mexico in 2022 also showed that there was no statistically significant rise in re-offending after bail reform was introduced. Supporters of bail reform point to this as an example of how bail reform is used as a scapegoat for bigger issues.

Vic Villalobos, a Las Cruces business owner, expresses his concerns about the consequences he believes have resulted from bail reform
Noah Raess (Screenshot)
Vic Villalobos owns a business that has been impacted by property crime in Las Cruces. He says bail reform in the state needs to end.

“A lot of crime is because of homelessness and poverty and I don't think the solution is to put all of those people in jail. Most of those offenses are criminal damage to property or trespassing and I am also concerned about that but I don't think the solution is to put all of those people who are homeless or suffering from mental health issues in jail," Knutson said.

Knutson also says that the old system of bail got rid of people's ability to be presumed innocent, but for people like Vic Villalobos, bail reform is the issue.

“Let’s lobby for ending bail reform and getting it back to getting criminals off the street,” Villalobos said.

One option New Mexico lawmakers took to strike a balance on bail reform comes in Senate Bill 271. The bill states if a person is charged with a felony and then is released and charged with a new felony, then they have to be held until they see all judges in their cases. The governor signed the bill on March 4th.

Noah Raess, an NMSU Journalism major, has produced many feature news stories for television, radio, and the web that have covered housing, public safety, climate, school safety, and issues facing refugees.