The NCSL Blog


By Brenda Erickson

What is it like to work for a state legislature? For many people, fun probably isn’t the first word to pop into their minds. But working for a legislature can be just that—fun!

Jon CourtneyWant an illustration? Jon Courtney, the deputy director for program evaluation at the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (LFC), recently submitted his rather unique experience to the Winter 2019 edition of the NLPES newsletter, The Working Paper.

First, let’s set the scene. 

“Many people know Albuquerque from the recent television series "Breaking Bad" where anti-hero Walter White resides committing a number of crimes in support of a methamphetamine drug ring. Fiction started to become reality in Albuquerque, as from 2010 to 2017 the crime rate rose by 56% (with other indicators such as amphetamine-related emergency department visits tripling over the same period). Recognizing the importance of this public safety issue, the LFC asked our Program Evaluation Unit to examine the criminal justice system, focusing on potential causes and solutions to the city’s crime increase (not including Hollywood depictions).”

And here’s how Courtney’s audit work began.

“Our fieldwork included standard interviews with those working in all aspects of the criminal justice system. All of these conversations were interesting and informative … Our day started at a staging area near downtown Albuquerque where reported crime in 2016 was 585% above the national average. BCSO and the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) were performing a joint operation to round up individuals with outstanding warrants. Two other program evaluators and I were there that morning for a ride along.”

Police carWaiver? Wait…what waiver?

“We signed waivers stating, 'I fully understand that police work is inherently dangerous and that, in addition, the police officer or officers with whom I am assigned may make decisions adverse to my personal safety.' We also agreed to hold BCSO and APD harmless for 'wrongful death, injury, or property damage I may suffer while riding in this vehicle.' After instruction from each department’s respective leader, warrants were assigned to officers, and we started searching.“

When a slow start leads to the great chase …

“The day started with little luck, the doors at last known addresses went mostly unanswered that morning and individuals named in the warrants were proving hard to find. Later that morning, my officer and I were in the vicinity of another small team of officers who had located a person with an outstanding warrant. Instead of complying with officers, the suspect decided to speed off in his SUV and the chase was on. The mood quickly turned from tedium to excitement as we responded to the call. The high-speed chase led us through a busy business district eventually ending up in a residential neighborhood downtown. I am not sure how fast we were going as I was watching for cars in intersections and listening to additional details on the police radio. The adrenaline was flowing as we sped past the University of New Mexico back toward the downtown area. The lead car in the chase deployed a GPS tracking device shot from the front bumper of a police cruiser, sticking to the suspect vehicle (just in case the vehicle is lost during the chase). Toward the end of the chase, the lead car in the chase spun out crashing through a fence. Officers boxed-in the suspect vehicle soon after, and one more warrant was cleared.”

All in a day’s work!

"The day flew by as we worked to clear more warrants. The warrant roundup operation that day resulted in 48 total arrests and the recovery of four stolen vehicles. It also resulted in some new friendships with the officers that held our lives in their hands during a thrilling 12-hour shift. The fieldwork made it into our report, which we released in July of 2018 with a number of recommendations for the criminal justice system. Overall, we found that deteriorating social conditions exacerbated system failures to hold offenders accountable and address root causes of crime. From 2010 to 2017 the city saw increases in concentrated poverty, gun use and drug use, which were met with fewer offenders being held accountable, and fewer offenders receiving services aimed at addressing root causes. I am happy to say that things are improving in Albuquerque due to the hard work of those across the criminal justice system. In 2018, Albuquerque experienced its first crime decrease in eight years with crime falling 24% compared to the previous year. Today, I am sitting in my office in Santa Fe preparing for our upcoming legislative session, fondly remembering riding along with those brave first responders, and hoping for another fieldwork experience that lives up to that exciting day in Albuquerque."

Ultimately, how did Courtney summarize his day of “fun fieldwork”?

“… My ride along with the BCSO on a hot day in June stands as one of the most exciting days of work I have ever experienced.”

So, as you can see, legislative work can be fun! If you have an example you’d like to share, let us hear from you.

Check out Courtney’s full story.

Brenda Erickson is a program principal in the Legislative Staff Services Program. She serves as the liaison to the National Legislative Program Evaluation Society (NLPES) and the co-liaison to the National Legislative Services and Security Association (NLSSA). There are nine professional staff associations at NCSL.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.