New Mexico is the only state in the southwest that has not enacted laws increasing punishments for gang-related crimes and law enforcement officials are seeing an increasing number of gang members move into the area to avoid harsher prison sentences in other states, said a Farmington Daily Times report.
"The officers that work gangs consistently report they are running into individuals from California who state they come to New Mexico because they are facing their third strike," said Tamera Marcantel, program manager for the New Mexico Gang Task Force.
"Two strikes and move to New Mexico" is a variation of the "three strikes, you're out" law and a popular saying among law enforcement. Members are fleeing states such as California and Arizona that have mandatory and enhanced prison sentences for individuals convicted of crimes related to gang activity.
State legislators attempted to pass two bills earlier this year that would enhance convictions for crimes committed in furtherance of gang activity and increase penalties for individuals who attempt to recruit another to join a gang, the report noted. Both pieces of legislation were deferred to the Senate Finance Committee during the session because of concerns they would increase the budget, the report said. In response to the lack of legislation, local law enforcement agencies often file cases in federal court instead of state court because it "has more teeth" than the state system, the report noted.
Statistical data on gang-related crime is scarce because there are no policies requiring mandatory reporting, making it difficult to measure, said the report. Even without consistent data, officials believe members are involved in all aspects of crime, including property crimes, narcotics, drive-bys, homicides, aggravated assault and robberies.
Gang-problem jurisdictions, no longer confined to large urban areas, increased 24 percent from 2002 to 2007, according to a study by the National Gang Center.