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These days, as with so many other topics, it seems no one is neutral when it comes to the police.
On one extreme, the view is “All Cops Are Bad,” or “Defund the Police.”
On the other extreme, the view is “Back the Blue,” with no exceptions.
Those extremes leave a miles-wide swath of middle ground.
That middle ground includes the view that, in every profession, there are people who are great at their job and people who are poor at their job. People who are ethical and honest to the nth degree, and people who skirt the standards or abuse their power. Most people agree workers who violate standards should be held accountable and terminated when warranted.
That middle ground includes the view that, as in every organization-especially post-Covid, finding anyone to do any job is difficult. Finding someone to do a difficult job and do it well is nearly impossible. Staffing issues strain everyone’s job performance. Most people recognize those things.
However, in the matter of police, the stakes for poor performance are higher. If my taco order is messed up or takes too long because of a poor employee or an under-staffed kitchen, it’s a short-term issue and no one is hurt. In a high-stress police situation, people can die. And they have.
This issue of the Bulletin contains a review of crime statistics in Las Cruces, comparing the numbers from 2022 to the previous year. We also have a report on the Las Cruces City Council’s review of an independent audit of the Las Cruces Police Department.
Some of the numbers of the statistics, particularly property crimes, are alarming. Residential burglaries are up 68 percent. Commercial burglaries are up 76 percent.
The audit was mostly favorable, and lauded the departments training efforts, but also reviewed a very tiny portion of LCPD’s body of work.
I looked at these articles and, with great help from our reporter Mike Cook, learned more from the City Council meetings, which drew a lot more public comment than these reviews have in the past. After reviewing the information, three comments jumped out at me.
Bobbie Green, president of the Doña Ana chapter of the NAACP, made a comment I’ve heard a lot of people make in the wake of some LCPD officer-involved shootings the past couple of years.
“You should not have to train somebody not to kill a 75-year-old grandmother who doesn’t speak English,” Green said. “ You should not have to train somebody not to kill somebody who is accused of stealing a beer. Ninety bullets into an unarmed Black man’s vehicle and into him and now he is crippled. That requires some change at the leadership level. The citizens of this city deserve better.”
If you’ve seen the videos in these instances – as well as multiple, similar incidents nationwide - it’s easy to conclude there could have been better ways to handle the situations.
Another quote that stood out to me came from City Councilor Johana Bencomo, who said she would like to “adopt more of a model of who gets to respond to what calls. Getting the right first responder to the right emergency.”
Definitely, it would be ideal to match the incident with responders best suited for it. But time is almost always of the essence. The right responder may be off duty, or on another call.
An astounding statistic to me was the police field a call every 4.5 minutes. Every four-and-a-half minutes, that phone is ringing. Very few of the calls are life-and-death, but you never know which ones are or aren’t. And another call is coming in less than five minutes.
At the moment, LCPD has 169 of its budgeted 202 officer positions filled. That means 33 vacancies. And it has been worse than that at times during Covid. With all the national backlash against law enforcement, becoming a police officer is not the most attractive job these days.
I agree with Bencomo we would all love to see the right person assigned to the right task, but these days it’s difficult to get any person at all assigned to any task.
Many of us have experienced or seen the rise in property crimes first hand. The police and the city are as frustrated by it as we are. There is a role we can play to help, as in the example of the 58-percent increase in auto thefts.
“If people stopped leaving their vehicle running with keys in it, locked their doors and removed their valuables, our property crime rate would drop drastically,” LCPD Deputy Chief Jeremy Story said. “That doesn’t mean any of them deserve to be victims. But it does mean that if they did those things, their chances of being a victim would be drastically reduced.”
Story presented a more holistic view when he said this: “We have to work with our businesses and our residents and have a problem-solving mentality that’s not just call-to-call trying to solve an individual call, but looking at underlying problems and working together to solve them.”
In this day and age, everyone thinks they have an answer to every problem. We are all wise King Solomons on social media.
When it comes to police and crime, however, no one has found a single solution. There may be ways to approach it bit by bit, or maybe there are some ways to leapfrog to grand improvements.
In Las Cruces, which has long been blessed by low crime rates and generally positive community interactions, we need to work together to find solutions both big and small.