BELEN — Drug use, abuse and trafficking isn’t new to the Hub City, but the Belen Police Department is trying to make a dent in the criminal activity.
Lt. Joe Portio said officers are actively focusing on the drug issues, which he says is the cause of many other crimes in Belen.
“Our investigation’s division has been working with some confidential informants, and doing narcotics investigations,” Portio said. “We’ve done some narcotics search warrants in the past couple of months, beginning in the latter part of November and early December.”
Drug dealing has been very active in the city, Portio said, which isn’t unusual. The lieutenant said drugs have always been a problem in Belen. While drug trafficking sometimes slows down for one reason or another, its become more active in recent months.
“Detective Sgt. (Adam) Keck and Detective Craig Meo have been extremely active in investigating narcotic sales,” he said. “They’ve been doing interviews and building relationships with confidential informants and doing controlled purchases.”
Through their investigations, they’ve been able to obtain search warrants, and a lot of product — heroin, crystal methamphetamine, prescription pills, Suboxone strips — have been seized, Portio said.
Several BPD officers have undergone specialized training on drug and cartel recognition, and with that information have been able to make several traffic stops that have turned into successful drug arrests.
“Through the search warrants and traffic stops, we’ve been able to seize about a half a pound of crystal meth,” Portio said. “Depending on the market, it’s worth between $10,000 and $33,000, which is street value.
“Crystal meth is made out of household goods — cleaning products. The more pure it is, the more dangerous it seems to be,” he added. “Crystal meth is just pure poison people put into their systems.”
Portio said along with the department’s detectives, the teams working with Sgt. Guy Sullenger and Sgt. Jose Natividad have confiscated several grams of crystal meth themselves.
The lieutenant said a regular drug dealer can use hundreds of dollars worth of heroin or meth each day, and a lot of these folks who abuse drugs don’t have jobs and turn to crime to fund their addictions.
“They make their money by committing property crimes and violent crimes,” he said. “It’s so important, as a police department, work well with other (law enforcement) agencies to get those resources down here, and continue to train so we can keep working those investigations, making those traffic stops and serving warrants.
“We just want these people to know that we’re going to go knock on your door, break it down, and we’re going to take you into custody and charge you with everything we can so you don’t do it again,” he added.
In the month of January, eight people have been arrested and charged with various crimes from drug trafficking to drug possession.
The last drug raid Belen police officers conducted resulted in two drug houses being shut down — one on East Aragon Road and one in Rio Communities — which Portio says were affiliated with each other.
“The drug dealers down here are pretty much small-town dealers,” he said. “But the small ones are just as important to get than the big dealers. If we don’t start being a little more aggressive in our techniques, our investigations and prosecutions, it’s going to continue to be an epidemic.”
Portio said much of the property and violent crimes committed in the city can all be attributed to the drug problem.
“I commend the officers of the Belen Police Department for being so active out there, and the investigative team for having that drive,” he said. “Detective Meo has been finding us these narcotics classes, and he has this fire in him to do this kind of stuff. He’s got a talent that most people don’t have when it comes to investigations and narcotics. He’s been a leader.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.