A collaborative effort between state police and local law enforcement agencies drew to a close last week, yielding nearly 1,500 traffic stops, dozens of arrests and a handful of recovered stolen vehicles.

Between Tuesday, Oct. 29, and Tuesday, Nov. 12, southern Valencia County has been awash in officers from the New Mexico State Police as they worked closely with the Belen Police Department and Valencia County Sheriff’s Office to curb crime.

“This was a proactive operation in Belen and the surrounding areas to suppress crime. It is part of the governor’s initiative on public safety,” said Lt. Mark Soriano, NMSP public information officer. “The main goal was to build relationships within the community, and collect information from citizens and be able to track their concerns.”

Belen and the southern part of the county were targeted for the operation due to crime statistics for the area, Soriano said.

Prior to the operation, state police met with concerned citizens and business owners to identify their primary needs and concerns.

“Officers were out there making citizen encounters, and people are telling us they are seeing drugs and criminal activity, telling us how it’s effected them,” the lieutenant said. “People work hard for their stuff and it’s theirs. We want to make sure we serve the citizens of New Mexico. People are tired of criminal activity. They were enthused and happy seeing a large officer presence.”

The 40 NMSP officers deployed to the area during the two-week operation worked closely with patrol officers from BPD and VCSO. Soriano said officer shortages are being experienced across the country and state, not just in Valencia County.

Right now, there are 650 state police officers, he said, and the department has room for 675.

“Recruitment is down nationwide. In order to continue to show our commitment, to address the concerns of the community, our law enforcement partners with Belen and Valencia County came together,” he said. “We are going to continue this relationship going forward.”

Soriano said it’s important for residents to remember NMSP has officers assigned to the Los Lunas district who are pro-actively doing traffic enforcement and patrols, and looking for violent felonies.

“New Mexico State Police is dedicated to working with other law enforcement agencies to reduce crime and build public trust in our communities,” said NMSP Chief Tim Johnson in a recent press release.

Belen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said he was ecstatic that state police offered additional resources to the community.

“As a smaller agency, with limited resources, we’re glad to have these additional resources to address some of the issues we see within the city and surrounding areas,” Rodriguez said.

The chief praised the unified, proactive effort of the three agencies.

“For me, the clear indication and message to anyone out there is that Belen and Valencia County have adequate and responsive law enforcement,” the chief said. “Don’t think coming out to rural parts that we don’t have law enforcement. We work together and we’re all here for the same reason.”

During the operation, Rodriguez said BPD officers and state police were able to address several shoplifting incidents at Walmart.

“We really tried to make an impact for our local businesses,” he said. “They are being victimized, especially this time of year.”

Rodriguez said the department was able to dedicate an extra officer per day for the operation, and preliminary costs are about $4,000 to $5,000 in overtime.

“We all put money and resources in the pot,” he said.

The extra manpower from the operation helped the sheriff’s office locate several people deputies have been looking for, said Sheriff Denise Vigil.

“We had a list, and we picked up all of them and then some,” Vigil said. “This operation gave us the opportunity to work side-by-side with the state police and build some momentum.”

The sheriff said the 1,443 traffic stops during the operation were welcomed by both the department and the community.

“We know doing traffic enforcement is effective,” she said. “But with the call volume we have, we have to have special operations.”

In looking at the day-to-day activities of the operation, Vigil noted that Tuesday, Nov. 5, had high numbers, which was in keeping with her department’s data that shows Tuesdays and Wednesdays are high crime days.

“We’re not sure why that is,” she said.

The sheriff said the community has felt an impact from the operation, which included eight Valencia County deputies.

“I saw it in my own neighborhood. People need to remember we live here and we see what they do,” Vigil said. “This was a positive for us. In the long run, this is going to help.”

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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.