BOSQUE FARMS — Although some crime numbers have increased in the village of Bosque Farms and town of Peralta, in some cases the chief says that can be attributed to more officer presence and the trust the department has built with the community.

One of the largest increases was in narcotics cases, increasing from nine in 2020 to 35 in 2021.

Bosque Farms Police Chief Andrew Owen said he attributed the low number of cases to the pandemic in 2020, when officers and the public were grappling with COVID-19 restrictions and precautions, followed by a year of officers out on the streets and able to be more proactive.

“It’s been determined that a deterrent (to crime) is the officers’ presence,” Owen said. “The proactive arrests the officers make are usually traffic stops or calls for suspicious persons, because they’re out looking for that activity.

Chief Andrew Owen

“When it comes to assaults, shoplifting, domestic violence, those are difficult to prevent.”

The number of domestic violence calls is another area the two jurisdictions have seen a large increase, from 28 cases in 2020 to a bit more than double that with 58 cases in 2021.

Last year, BFPD officers responded to 29 calls in each Bosque Farms and Peralta.

Owen said it’s his hope those statistics increased because victims are becoming more willing to trust officers and report incidents of violence in the home.

“Preventing those types of crimes is difficult because the only way that we can do it is through education,” the chief said. “One of the things I would say attributes to the rise in those numbers is the actual reporting. More people are saying something. The victims are getting educated in the fact that they can report.

“They know we will investigate and we will arrest the offender, and we are working with the district attorney’s office and (Valencia Shelter Services) in getting the victims help. I think the word is getting out that these victims don’t need to be a victim anymore.”

Shoplifting cases fell from 47 to 38, but Owen says the crime is still a detriment to the community.

“It’s a property crime. That’s why (businesses) pay insurance, right? Then everybody complains about the prices going up so much,” he said. “They’ve got to pay more for their insurance now. So where does that go? It comes back to the community, so everything’s related.”

In the last few years, the chief said criminals have become more brazen, knowing if they are arrested for a non-violent crime, such as stealing thousands of dollars of merchandise, they will most likely be released from jail within 24 hours.

“When they’re arrested, they say they need help. What help do you need by stealing an air compressor?” Owen said. “It’s not like they’re stealing a loaf of bread and lunch meat to feed their family. There’s a difference; there’s help for that.”

No matter who the chief of police is, since taking on the job of providing law enforcement services for the town of Peralta, there’s been criticism from village residents about BFPD not being able to adequately protect them.

Owen said he’s heard the complaints but ultimately the village, and surrounding communities, benefit from the expanded coverage.

Peralta does pay for services and the village has been able to use those funds to increase the number of officers from 11 to 14. The chief said he will also ask for additional positions during the village council’s upcoming budget cycle.

“Because of the rising crime, the more pushing of the criminal element further away from Bosque Farms, the better,” Owen said. “I have just under 8,000 residents that I’m responsible for — their safety and their law enforcement.”

Covering a larger jurisdiction also gives officers, especially those new to law enforcement, more responsibility and sense of accomplishment.

“I’m settled here. I want to be settled. Some of these younger guys, they want to spread their wings and do a lot of other things, so having both jurisdictions allows them a greater responsibility for themselves when they can say they are responsible for both jurisdictions,” he said.

In the last year, Owen said he has asked officers to focus on criminal investigations and to stay involved and invested in cases, beginning to end.

“This last year, one of my biggest concentrations was getting the detective (Joseph Harris Jr.) more involved with the Attorney General’s office and their unit on internet crimes against children, especially child abuse cases,” he said.

Last year, the department handled 11 cases of child abuse or neglect and 33 CYFD referrals.

“When you have these types of cases, especially when you have a victim who can’t really defend themselves, we’ve made really good strides and our conviction rates are good,” Owen said. “We want the officers to have buy-in. ‘This is your case. Follow through with it.’ Going beyond, ‘Sorry for your bad luck, here’s the report, see you in court.’ We are maintaining contact through the process.”

Another area of progress in the department is Cpl. Brad Killough and K9 Dukan, the chief said, with both Killough and Dukan training diligently.

“Within the last year and a half, Killough is now a certified K-9 trainer,” the chief said. “He has a greater understanding and can help other handlers.”

Killough and Dukan also recently went through a national certification program, where Dukan took “Top Dog” honors.

“We’re getting them the training they need to succeed. Not just for our community but for the entire county,” Owen said. “They go everywhere — Belen, Los Lunas, the county — and to me that’s very important because it tells the criminals we’re working together. They need to move to another county.”

The chief said in addition to consistently updating the department’s equipment, he has continued the emphasis on training for all officers, including leadership classes for his lieutenant and sergeants.

“They’re the ones that are the boots on the ground. I’m just the face,” he said. “When I give my council meeting reports, it’s not about me. It’s about the officers. They’re the ones who are succeeding. But when there’s a screw up, that’s me. It’s my responsibility and it shouldn’t have happened.

“The culture I’m developing within the department is about giving them what they need to succeed, giving them the tools and the training to do their jobs and holding them accountable when they don’t.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.