Your home was a little less likely to be broken into in 2001 — but you may have needed to keep an eye on your car.

According to county-wide statistics, the overall number of property crimes has dropped.

Belen Police Chief Paul Skotch-dopole said the city has spent thousands of dollars in overtime on special detail operations to get burglars off the streets. Belen had two fewer burglaries last year compared to 2000.

“I realize there isn’t much of a change in one year, but if you go back to 1999, there has been a 4 percent decrease,” Skotchdopole said. “Any decrease in property crimes is good. Granted, it’s only down 1 percent, but maybe next year it’ll be down 2 or 3.”

The number of burglaries in Bosque Farms also dropped last year. There were 18 burglaries reported to police in 2001 compared to 21 the year before. Bosque Farms Police Chief Louis Burkhard credits the community watch in the village with the 14 percent decrease.

“I think it’s a combination of people watching out for each other and knowing who belongs in the area and who doesn’t,” he said. “The residents are more aware of what’s going on in their particular neighborhoods.”

Although Belen and Bosque Farms have experienced a decrease in the number of burglaries, Los Lunas and the sheriff’s department have seen an increase.

According to statistics provided by the Los Lunas Police Department, there were 279 burglaries in 2001 compared to 189 the year before – a 48 percent

increase. Los Lunas Police Chief Nick Balido said most of that is due to an increase in auto burglaries in the village.

“In 2001, we had a lot of vehicle break-ins,” Balido said. “We believe they were a group of juveniles who were responsible for most of them.”

The sheriff’s department saw a 15 percent increase in burglaries last year. “We have caught and jailed a lot of burglars,” said Valencia County Sheriff Juan Julian. “We also have caught a lot of juveniles who are out at two or three o’clock in the morning breaking into vehicles.”

Julian said he’s seen a shift from the common “visiting burglar” in Valencia County to juvenile offenders who are out without anything to do to keep them occupied. “Drugs also play a big part in it because people are trying to support their habits,” Julian said. “They take whatever they can get and trade it to supply their habit.”

Although deputies investigated more burglaries in 2000, they have also seen a decrease in the number of larceny cases. There were 393 cases of larceny reported to the sheriff’s department in 2001 compared to 434 in 2000.

The number of larcenies also went down in Belen last year by 36 percent. In 2001, Belen police received 291 larceny cases compared to 459 the year before.

“I think it’s because we’re working closer with the business people,” Skotchdopole said. “Let’s face it, Wal-Mart is the main contributor to that statistic, but they have a great video surveillance system.

“I also think all the merchants in Belen are doing a tremendous job at apprehending shoplifters and, of course, we have the follow-up.”

The number of larcenies also declined in Bosque Farms from 53 in 2000 to 34 last year – a 36 percent decrease. “There isn’t any one thing that we can attribute to the decline of larcenies,” Burkhard said. “It falls back to being an unpredictable crime.”

Los Lunas experienced a 17 percent increase in larcenies last year. In 2001, 463 cases were reported to police compared to 397 in 2000.

“Why? I can’t answer that question,” said Balido. “A lot of the shoplifters we’ve had aren’t your regular juveniles. They’re adults, and I feel it has a lot to do with gambling. People aren’t buying what they need because they’re gambling their money away.”

Balido also said the drug issue has a lot to do with the increase in larceny cases in the villages. “They need to support their habits, and they’ll do almost anything to do it,” he said.

Although most of the statistics show that Los Lunas’ property crime rate has risen, it did see a 15 percent decrease in auto thefts. In 2001, police handled 56 cases compared to 66 in 2000.

“My personal opinion about why they have gone down is because we have been fortunate to have caught a lot of these people who are stealing cars,” Balido said. “We’ve been doing something right. What happens, if you come to Los Lunas and try to take a car, the police are and will be on the look-out.”

The number of auto thefts reported to the sheriff’s department has decreased by 57 percent. There were 45 reported stolen vehicles in 2001 compared to 104 the year before.

“It was a pretty substantial drop, and I think it has to do with the quality of officers that we have working in the county now,” Julian said. “If you’re able to keep that experience within your department, that generates a down-fall in your crime rate. We have officers out there who are really concerned and interact with the public.”

Belen also experienced a decrease in the number of auto thefts last year. In 2001, there were 64 cases of stolen vehicles compared to 73 in 2000. Skotchdopole credits the 12 percent decrease to the apprehension of those responsible for the crime.

“I know for a fact that the people who were responsible for stealing those vehicles have been apprehended, are in the system,” Skotchdopole said.

The only law enforcement agency in the county that experienced an increase in auto thefts last year was the Bosque Farms Police Department. The number increased by two – six in 2000 and eight in 2001. “Three of them were attributed to one individual who is currently being prosecuted,” said Burkhard. “Two others were stolen from an auto repair shop and they were both recovered.”

Second in a two-part series

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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.