- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico officials plan to merge most of the state’s major criminal, court and personal information databases to give judges access to more information before they set bail.

State officials say they hope the Criminal History Clearinghouse will be operational by winter, but it could take longer, The Albuquerque Journal (https://bit.ly/1OSTtnt ) reported Monday.

The project will link at least six databases to give judges a quicker, more thorough way to check defendants’ backgrounds.

Officials say the project could also be more expensive than legislators budgeted for.

Lawmakers set aside almost $800,000 for the project this year, alongside an annual recurring cost of about $600,000. Most of the recurring cost goes toward eight employees working around the clock at the secured Santa Fe facility that will house the clearinghouse.

House majority leader Rep. Nate Gentry, an Albuquerque Republican, originally pitched the clearinghouse as not just a tool for judges but also a way to help police officers stay safe on the street. Complications in launching the database, however, will prevent it from being immediately available to police.

“When it got up and running, it was to be something everyone could access,” said Gentry. “It gets to be more complicated than you think it’s going to be.”

Gentry said it will take more money to make the database available to police in their vehicles. He plans to request that funding during the next legislative session.

Scott Weaver, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, said the clearinghouse is designed to handle about 200 background reports a day. He said it’s too early to know how long each report will take to run.

The director of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, Artie Pepin, said in a statement that many judges outside Albuquerque and a few other large courts have limited information. Pepin said the new system will allow judges to make more informed decisions about whether to set bail and how high to make it.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com

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