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Preliminary crime statistics from 2022 show a mixed bag for Las Cruces including a small decrease in total violent crimes and a 27 percent increase in overall property crimes led by residential burglaries and vehicle thefts, the Las Cruces Police Department (LCPD) said in a news release.
“The men and women of the Las Cruces Police Department take crime prevention seriously,” said Chief Miguel Dominguez. “But unfortunately, police cannot prevent all crimes. Over the last several years we have spoken to several community groups about crime prevention and what they can do to help. We have provided numerous tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of property crimes and we continue to ask our residents to heed those suggestions.”
Violent crime: 2022 (2021 totals are in parenthesis)
Property crime increased by 27 percent from 2021 to 2022
Total property crime: 6,237 (4,929)
Traffic: 2022 (2021 totals)
CRIME REDUCTION EFFORTS
In the past three months, LCPD has developed a “pro-active crime reduction strategy,” LCPD Deputy Chief Jeremy Story said at the Feb. 27 work session. Story said the strategy is based on evidence-based and intelligence-led policing efforts, undercover projects, joint-agency operations, targeting repeat offenders, community collaboration, including both businesses and community members and crime-prevention education campaigns, including social media and door hangers.
Through Feb. 24, Dominguez said LCPD crime-reduction strategies, including targeting hot spots, the number of many property crimes have declined from 2022.
“In order to solve these problems, 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,” Story said.
“The reality is … 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,” 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.”
LCPD said commercial burglary losses can be limited by properly securing the structure when the business is closed and storing valuable merchandise in a safe or secure room. The department also “encourages home and business owners to invest in a good quality security system that captures video and sends an alert when the property has been breached. Doing so ensures a quicker response from police and can provide video evidence to help identify the perpetrator.”
CRISIS TRIAGE CENTER
There have been 207 law enforcement drop-offs at the country Crisis Triage Center (CTC) since it opened in July 2021 through the end of January 2023, Story said. 188 (about 91 percent) of the drop-offs have been individuals transported by LCPD.
Story said he and other LCPD officers and other law enforcement partners met in February met with county Health and Human Services Director Jamie Michael and CTC staff, REI to find ways to increase the use of the CTC and ultimately get more people to the CTC instead of an emergency room.
The Las Cruces-Doña Ana County Metro Narcotics unit, which addresses drug trafficking and dealing in the city and county and includes LCPD, DASO and the New Mexico State Police, had 381 callouts in 2022, Mullen said, with 80 percent involving methamphetamine or fentanyl. The callouts resulted in 381 arrests, including 113 arrests for fentanyl and 30 other fentanyl-related cases pending lab results; 39 search warrants executed; and 26 undercover operations.
The Metro Narcotics unit seized 71.5 pounds of methamphetamine (valued at $392,000), nine pounds of cocaine ($400,000), more than 69,000 fentanyl pills ($208,000-$346,000), almost a pound of heroin ($34,000), 12 pounds of marijuana ($6,000) and 88 firearms.
LCPD received 136,280 calls for service in 2022 and generated 23,709 incident reports, along with 1,026 online reports. In 2021. So far in 2023, LCPD has received 22,507 calls for service and has generated 3,304 incident reports and 105 online reports through the end of January 2023.
Dominguez said LCPD receives about 13 calls for service per hour, or one call every 4.5 minutes.
Of a total 202 budgeted positions, LCPD currently has 169 commissioned officers on the streets, Dominguez said at the Las Cruces City Council’s Feb. 27 work session.
For those 33 openings, an additional 24 officers are expected to join the force in April, including 18 from LCPD’s 52nd Police Academy and six lateral transfers from other police departments. The department’s 53rd Police Academy begins in July and has more than 200 applicants.
LCPD also has 13 code enforcement officers, six animal control officers, 12 police service aides and 83 civilian staff.
LCPD’s 52nd Police Academy (which graduates in April) provided 1,049 hours of basic training, LCPD said, an equivalent of 131 eight-hour days. It is a satellite academy of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy, which requires 677 hours of training. LCPD training emphasized reality-based training (96 hours), Story said, including domestic violence (46 hours), use of force/defensive tactics (111 hours) and crisis intervention training/communication skills (64 hours), firearms (125 hours).
LCPD also requires in-service training that includes legal trends and use of force, de-escalation, defensive tactics refresher, active-shooter response scenarios, high-risk stops and scenarios and briefings that included CTC and Mesilla Valley Hospital, a local mental health clinic.
Advanced training classes included education on advanced search and seizure, traffic stops, New Mexico search and seizure, interpersonal skills for law enforcement, de-escalation, use of force and evidence-based instruction for police.
In-service and advanced training topics in 2023 include de-escalation, hearing sensitivity training, fair and impartial policing, use of force, CPR and duty to intervene, crisis intervention and search and seizure and basic criminal investigations.
Including most courses, 172 commissioned officers received 34,848 hours of training in 2022, Story said, which averages to 203 hours per officer, an equivalent of 25 eight-hour days. That does not include briefings, one-on-one training between a supervisor and an officer, online learning or briefings, Story said.
Lt. Joy Wiitala said LCPD Community Engagement conducted Neighborhood Watch meetings in 24 neighborhoods and also held community and business watch meetings. The police regularly make presentations at schools and youth leadership camps. Presentations to businesses and assisted living facilities focus on fraud and scams. In 2022, Community Engagement conducted 104 directed patrols. There are partnerships with multiple charitable organizations and projects, often working with children and needy families. The department conducts Ident-a-Child (ID cards) events and bike rodeos and work programs for people dealing with homelessness. The police provide bicycle registrations and vehicle identification number (VIN) etchings for UTVs and business decals that ID businesses with security cameras.
The LCPD Cares Program began in 2021, with civilian community advocates David Sarabia and Grace Telles coming on board in January 2022. Sarabia and Telles reach out pro-actively to businesses and community partners, as well as follow up on incidents with aftercare and outreach to families who experienced loss. They also helped coordinate the Small Business Storefront Repair Program for businesses impacted by vandalism or burglary.
“Without those community partnerships we can’t really survive as a law enforcement agency,” Wiitala said.