LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - In a passionate two-hour long discussion at the Las Cruces City Council on Monday, business members, city leaders and residents grappled with how to solve the issues of homelessness, property crime and poverty.
“It’s not a problem with homelessness, it’s not an issue with drugs, it’s an issue with poor policy," said Michael Fraembs, a Las Cruces resident. "What are you going to do when one of us gets stabbed, shot, killed?"
“This is an issue with homelessness," said Councilwoman Johana Bencomo, who represents district four. "This is about crime, this is about mental health and the ways in which we are and are not funding them.”
Dozens expressed their outrage, to include business owners, residents and even the mayor.
"You say that you understand us," said Angel Guevara, a Las Cruces resident. "Have you experienced what we're experiencing?"
"Every week, I get hit," said Mayor Ken Miyagishima. "I feel for you. I know what you're going through."
At his business on Solano Drive, the mayor said people leave shopping carts on his property, throw up in his parking lot, break windows and steal from his business.
Data obtained by ABC-7 in April showed that property crime was by far, the top crime committed on the troubled El Paseo corridor.
"This did not happen overnight," said Crystal Fraembs, who said she worries for her safety.
Complaints about low-cost housing
A large number of the frustrated residents say they live near Desert Hope, a low-cost housing project near Pecos Street and Idaho Avenue.
"(I'm always) having to clean up feces around the area," said Guevara, who owns a meat market around the corner. "Sometimes they're walking around with machetes, believe it or not."
"Meet us where we live, to see and hear for yourselves the horrible conditions that this complex and its patrons have brought to our doorstep," said Marisol Diaz, a resident of Pecos Street.
Diaz said she has a petition signed by 150 neighbors and business owners who "demanded that (councilors) act and prevent the extension of further development of this program."
“You’re asking us to close down Desert Hope?" asked Councilwoman Johana Bencomo, who represents district four. "What is that going to do? Displace more people.”
Bail reform criticism
Mayor Ken Miyagishima said he believes many vandals are repeat offenders who are released from jail shortly after they are arrested.
“There are people who have done some pretty bad things and they’re back on the streets within minutes," Mayor Miyagishima said.
In 2016, New Mexico voters approved a constitutional amendment that essentially ended the money bail bond system. However, critics say the reform has made it increasingly difficult for judges to keep low-level offenders in jail.
“It’s a revolving door," the mayor said. "They just keep being let out.”
“We have to go after those criminals," said Niel Campbell. "I don’t care if we book them once, twice or 20 times. Book them. Book them every single time.”
In a statement, the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts defended the 2016 measure.
“Numerous studies show bail reform improves public safety," said Artie Pepin, who cited a a study released by the Legislative Finance Committee in January. "All New Mexicans share a concern about crime, but evidence from research clearly indicates that the great majority of people released pending trial remain arrest-free."