LOS LUNAS — There were only about 20 people at a county-wide community watch meeting this weekend, but local law enforcement agencies are hopeful they’ll spread the word to their neighbors.
Representatives from the Bosque Farms and Los Lunas police departments and the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office were on hand last Saturday to take questions from residents and give advice on the best way to help law enforcement combat crime in their communities.
Bosque Farms Police Chief Paul Linson said the Bosque Farms Citizens Patrol serves as extra eyes and ears on the streets, and a great way to be involved in your community.
One Peralta resident, who admitted she tends to “think everything is worse than it is,” asked Linson for a realistic overview of crime in the area.
The chief said in the last few years, he’s seen a slight increase, mostly in property crimes and narcotics.
“It’s not out of control, and having community watch helps,” he said.
He said increased law enforcement in the city of Albuquerque to the north has pushed some criminal elements into Valencia County.
“We’ve seen an increased transient population, foot traffic, tent living,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of traffic traveling N.M. 47, coming through Bosque Farms and into Peralta and Los Lunas.”
Community Watch Slide
In response to a question, Linson said in his opinion, the traffic patrols and stops his officers make do help deter crime.
“We’ve made some very serious arrests, seized several pounds of narcotics, made felony arrests,” he said. “If we stop them in Bosque Farms, it prevents them from moving on and victimizing others.”
Valencia County Sheriff Denise Vigil said while the various Facebook community watch pages were great resources, her department can’t “police” from them.
“That’s why it’s important to always report what you see,” Vigil said. “Sometimes it seems like people expect to just say something on Facebook and we’ll be there.”
The sheriff said one complaint people often have is even if they call dispatch, it’s a long wait for a deputy, depending on the type of call.
“That might be the case, but by calling in, dispatch can alert other agencies and get the word out about what to watch for,” she said.
Vigil said if residents wanted to report information or suspicious activity but didn’t feel it was an emergency, they could call the non-emergency dispatch number — 865-9130 — which is answered 24/7 just like 911.
The sheriff emphasized that callers can remain anonymous when calling either number.
Whether anonymous or not, Undersheriff Mark Kmatz said callers need to give as many details as possible when describing suspicious people and vehicles.
“We aren’t judging you for what you say. If someone looks black to you, say black. If they look Hispanic, say Hispanic,” Kmatz said. “If they have a unique tattoo, scar, are wearing a large gold chain, tell us.”
Kmatz said details about vehicles, such as stickers or damage, are also critical to locating the possible suspect.
“Anything can help us find a suspect,” he said.
One woman in the audience said people are sometimes hesitant to call law enforcement because they feared retaliation.
“How can you make certain they will be protected,” she asked.
Vigil said local Facebook group administrators will pass information to her anonymously from people who don’t want to give their names.
“You can stay anonymous and we will work with you,” the sheriff said. “We are doing everything we can to protect people.”
Security cameras at businesses and private homes can be used by officers to identify people committing crimes, Kmatz said, but it’s important that people know how to use their systems.
“Often people can play back the video, but they can’t make a copy,” he said.
A handful of audience members asked when a member of the public could use deadly force.
Kmatz said only when your life or someone else’s is in danger of great bodily harm or death.
“If you shoot someone running out of your house, carrying your TV, you’re in for a court battle,” the undersheriff said.
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.