LOS LUNAS — The Los Lunas police chief said he perceives property crime has increased within the village, however a change in the department’s reporting system makes the overall crime numbers from 2020 and 2021 nearly incomparable.

“It’s hard to tell now, but I can tell you through my professional opinion, that property crime is on the rise,” LLPD Chief Frank Lucero said. “I think property crime is on the rise not only county-wide here in Valencia, but also statewide and also nationwide. All you have to do is watch the news and you see these offenders out there committing these property crimes.”

In 2021, 443 shoplifting and larceny offenses along with 37 arrests were reported in the village, according to the department’s crime statistics. This is an increase from the 298 offenses reported in 2020.

Lucero said the increase in shoplifting he and his team are seeing in the village is partly due to major retailers cracking down on their asset protection, taking better note on what is taken from them.

“Harbor Freight, for example, reached out to us and they were able to provide a list of all of the property that has been stolen and the dollar amount is astronomical — you’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars,” Lucero said.

Previous to businesses being more cognisant of what is both in store and shoplifted out, Lucero said this increase doesn’t necessarily mean this kind of property crime did not occur in the past.

“It has been my observation in the past that oftentimes, some of these businesses aren’t even calling to report every instance of shoplifting or property crime,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that these crimes aren’t happening, they just aren’t reported to the police department.”

In order to deter the commission of property crime, LLPD officers are performing daily walkthroughs of local businesses.

“Not only is it a deterrent by the officers physical presence, but it increases that contact with officers and the management, employees of these businesses,” Lucero said. “Hopefully, even just the improvement in communication can go a long way.”

The department is also in the process of signing an MOU with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office to be a part of the Retail Organized Crime task force and assist with undercover operations with large stores in and around the Albuquerque metro area.

In addition to an increase in calls for property crime and shoplifting, Lucero said his officers are also observing these crimes coupled with other serious offenses, such as threat of violence or assault.

According to the annual reports, 70 cases of aggravated assaults occurred in 2020, compared to 116 reported in 2021.

“They are not only committing shoplifting crimes at these major retailers, but they are also brandishing and sometimes threatening the staff members with weapons,” the chief said. “Another thing is we see more of these crimes being committed in stolen vehicles, so it’s more difficult for law enforcement agencies to trace back the vehicle used in the commission of the crime to identify them.”

Under the previous crime reporting system, summary uniform crime reporting or UCR, not all of the offenses which occurred within a single incident were being reflected in the  report. Lucero said this is what makes the new FBI reporting system, NIBRS or National Incident Based Reporting System, more accurate.

“The UCR system utilized a hierarchy rule, so when you had one particular incident that involved a single person committing numerous different crimes during a specific incident, you see our reporting only the most serious offense out of all of those offenses,” Lucero said. “With NIBRS, that person who commits multiple offenses with one incident, we’re getting all of those incidents reported.”

The change in systems results in a perceived crime increase across the board when looking strictly at the annual reports comparatively from 2020 to 2021.

Lucero said he wants the community to understand there are a lot of moving parts that result in the crime numbers the public observes in each annual report, and it shouldn’t be the only thing looked at when trying to understand the crime level within a community.

“You can see the limitation of this statistical data in order for you to accurately gauge the crime in a community,” the chief said. “These are some of the weaknesses that have been using this data, and I caution everybody, but it really just gives a ballpark figure.”

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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.