[A]n Albuquerque police officer ordered Joleen Nez, a 37- year-old, unhoused, American Indian woman, “to pick up her litter [from the street] and of the consequences if she did not.” Joleen refused, stating, “It’s not my trash.” The consequences were that Joleen was summoned to appear in court for littering, booked into the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”) when she failed to appear and declared an in-custody death the next day.These stories and others like them prompted a series of questions. Why are non-violent petty criminal offenders being murdered by police and dying in county jails? What does the day-to-day policing of petty crime look like? Who commits petty crimes? What are the most common petty criminal offenses? Where are they committed? How often do suspects resist arrest or refuse to obey officers? How often do officers use force? What factors contribute to a suspect being summoned rather than booked? How do state courts manage and respond to the thousands of petty criminal complaints filed with them annually? How often do the courts issue warrants for the arrest of defendants who have failed to appear? How much in fines and fees do the courts impose? How often are defendants booked following the issuance of a summons or an arrest? How often are defendants sentenced for their crimes? To answer those questions, data was collected from all misdemeanor-only criminal complaints filed by the Albuquerque Police Department (“APD”) in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court (“metro court”) in 2020. However, the shocking discovery that nearly one-third of these misdemeanor complaints filed in the metro court by APD were filed against unhoused individuals prompted a shift in the intended focus of this article from the policing of petty crimes, generally, to the policing of the unhoused, specifically. This shift in focus required additional data collection to ensure a more complete picture of the policing of the 867 unhoused misdemeanants uncovered through the preliminary survey. Consequently, data from all misdemeanor and felony complaints filed against them were added to the dataset. In total, 1,924 criminal complaints were inspected—1,554 misdemeanor complaints and 370 felony complaints. Nonetheless, this remains an incomplete picture of the deluge of policing activity that washed over the unhoused in Bernalillo County in 2020.
New Mexico Law Review
Ernesto Longa, Policing the Unhoused, 53 N.M. L. Rev. 101 (2023).