As Valencia County residents and those across New Mexico and much of the nation remains on stay-at-home orders, certain types of crime have increased while others have dropped in numbers.

One of the types of crimes that has increased, as expected by law enforcement, is domestic violence. While some jurisdictions in the county are seeing a slight increase, one law enforcement agency has seen a dramatic rise in the number of calls.

“We’ve seen a huge spike in domestic violence calls,” said Valencia County Sheriff Denise Vigil. “The majority of our calls are domestic-violence related.”

Denise Vigil
Valencia County Sheriff

Vigil said people are frustrated by the stay-at-home order, and some are having financial difficulties because of unemployment issues, which can cause heated situations where they need to call law enforcement. While some people are getting arrested for alleged assaults against household members, others who have left the scene before deputies arrive are being summoned into court.

“We’re responding to a bare minimum of three calls per shift (for domestic violence),” Vigil said. “(Our deputies) are actually busier now with the pandemic than they ever were.”

While the number of domestic violence cases have increased in the unincorporated areas of the county, Los Lunas, Belen and Bosque Farms have noticed they’ve received more reports, but not a lot.

Los Lunas Police Chief Naithan Gurule says calls for service have decreased across the board in the village, but he has notice a slight increase in domestic violence calls.

“It feels more of the prevalent issue we’re dealing with,” Gurule says. “I think people are at home together, and they are frustrated. We see the same thing during the holidays.

Gurule says there are a lot of reasons the number of calls for domestic violence have increased, including the financial pressures and the fear of the pandemic adds to the anxiety and stress.

Naithan Gurule
Los Lunas Police Chief

“People are worried about their jobs, paying bills and taking care of kids,” he said. “Those are all factors.”

For Belen police, Chief James Harris said he hasn’t seen much of a change in crime, other than “a few more domestics than normal.”

“It’s not a significant increase,” Harris said. “Anytime you have people closed up together, it’s just human nature that you get on each other’s nerves. That’s really to be expected when people are confined. It’s not unusual.”

The village of Bosque Farms and town of Peralta has also seen a slight increase in domestic violence-related calls, but Chief Paul Linson said it hasn’t been a problem.

“The domestic violence is pretty easy to figure out,” Linson said. “People are running out of things to do and they’re getting impatient.”

As domestic violence calls in the northern part of Valencia County has increased slightly, they’ve also seen an increase in the number of calls for disorderly conduct. Linson said people are having a bit more disputes with their neighbors.

One crime that police in Valencia County are grateful to see a decrease in across the board are residential burglaries.

“Burglaries aren’t as high, which is good news,” Vigil said. “That’s probably based on the fact that people are home, and we’re thankful for that.”

The same holds true for Los Lunas, Belen and Bosque Farms.

“We haven’t seen a lot of them,” Gurule said about residential burglaries. “Even auto burglaries have gone down.”

“In our town, the pandemic has had a very minimal impact as far as crime is concerned,” Harris said.

“I think people are at home and criminals know that,” Linson said. “People are at home and protecting their property, and criminals aren’t taking that risk.”

Paul Linson

As for commercial burglaries, there have been some, but law enforcement agencies across the county have been keeping an extra eye on those businesses that have been forced to close.

“We’ve increased our presence in the business community in Bosque Farms and Peralta,” Linson said. “We’re probably more visible that usual, which, I believe, has deterred crime.”

Since the beginning of the closure of non-essential businesses, Gurule has directed his officers to patrol both businesses that are closed and open.

While many businesses have closed, those that are open are still vulnerable to other crimes, such as shoplifting. With Belen and Los Lunas having the most retail stores, they were asked if they’ve responded to more shoplifting calls.

“Shoplifting has been about the same,” Gurule says about the number of reports taken. “We have a heavy presence in store parking lots, and during the first four weeks, Albertsons hired some of our officers as security.

“With our high presence and security, we’ve been able to keep down those numbers,” Gurule said. “It’s still about the same, averaging even maybe less.”

In Belen, shoplifting has always been a problem, Harris said.

James Harris
Belen Police Chief

“It’s as bad now as it ever was,” the chief reported. “We’re catching a lot more of them. We’re at Walmart more because they’ve requested overtime at the store.”

One concern Belen and Bosque Farms are having is the amount of ATV and off-road vehicles on roadways.

“It’s been a huge problem, and they tend to run from us, and it’s difficult to enforce,” Harris said. “Some are being dangerous and zipping through neighborhoods like they’re out on the mesa.”

Linson said there has been a “huge increase” in the amount of people riding their ATVs around the village, and they are dealing with it as need be.

The Bosque Farms police chief says as the weather is warming up, he’s noticing more and more families out and about than usual.

“We’re seeing a lot more bike riders and runners; we see more families in their frontyards playing kickball,” he said. “It’s been really nice. We’re seeing many families riding bikes together in the early mornings and evening hours. It’s a pleasant surprise.”

“Our officers have been really proactive and working hard to keep everyone safe,” Gurule said. “It shows the level of professionalism in our department and we’re working hard for everybody.”

Vigil says as the stay-at-home orders continue, and people may not return to work as soon as they’d like, she hopes if they find themselves in a domestic violence situation that they reach out for help.

“At any given opportunity, please try to make a phone call,” the sheriff says. “We encourage them to send a message to someone and call on their behalf. We know the times are different and people are home all day and all night.

“There’s always an opportunity to text someone to tell people what’s happening. We’ll always respond, even if we don’t have all the information; it’s our obligation to check.”

She is also grateful to those residents who are being patient with her office and deputies.

“The community has been very patient with us, and we are trying our best.”

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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.