Most burglaries drug related
The Socorro Police Department briefed the City Council on local burglaries with a PowerPoint presentation during the council’s regular meeting Monday.
SPD detective Sgt. Richard Lopez showed the council a program SPD uses that maps out where burglaries happen in the city. He directed the viewers’ attention to clusters of burglaries in certain neighborhoods, noting police can often catch one person and put a stop to the burglaries in that person’s neighborhood.
“I can’t give you an exact number of how many active burglars we have in Socorro, but … I’d say we have less than 20,” Lopez said. “But these people are constantly out there.”
Lopez said if the burglars can be corralled, whether that means they’re in jail, in prison, on probation, on house arrest or the like, burglary incidents become less frequent. He said the issue in Socorro this year is that some burglars who have been locked up for a few years are getting out after serving their time.
“And as they slowly get out of jail, our burglary rates go up,” Lopez said.
Lopez said the police watch certain houses where drug activity is suspected, and often the neighbors around them are burglarized.
“We can tie most of our burglaries to drug use,” Lopez said.
Lopez estimated 150 to 220 burglaries per year happen in Socorro, and police solve about 40 percent of the cases — although there is not always a conviction. He explained it often happens that police locate stolen property, but are only able to charge a person with possession of stolen property. However, when the person is arrested, the burglaries in the area cease.
Lopez said the Belen area has a burglary problem — especially commercial burglary — which he attributed to the high rate of heroin use in that area. He noted two weeks ago, someone used a torch to cut a hole in a Sears store in Los Lunas and “hauled everything out.”
Lopez said Socorro doesn’t have commercial burglary to the same extent as Belen and Los Lunas. Commercial burglars here are generally targeting copper, he said.
Lopez said a very small percentage of the burglaries around Socorro involve armed suspects. He said most burglaries here are crimes of opportunity in which the victim has left a door unlocked, or the burglars know when people are out of town.
Lopez said there are large burglary rings that target big stores like Walmart. They may steal $5,000 worth of merchandise and then sell it to someone who markets it somewhere else. He described homes set up just like a store, only stocked with stolen merchandise, where people can come in and buy things as if it were a store.
Councilor Nick Fleming asked if Socorro’s burglaries are committed mostly by minors or adults.
Lopez estimated minors are responsible for less than 10 percent of local burglaries, although he shared a story about some youth who cleaned out their neighbors’ house when they knew the residents were out of town.
“They had stripped the house, literally down to just the walls. I mean, everything was gone,” Lopez said. “We found all the property in two different houses.
“They literally decorated a girlfriend’s house and their parents’ house with everything that came from these people’s house. It took us five pickup loads to take everything back.”
Councilor Donald Monette noted how one graph in the presentation kind of replicates unemployment rates. Lopez agreed, saying many suspects in copper thefts say they have lost their jobs in construction.
Mayor Ravi Bhasker remarked on the feelings of grief and violation victims feel no matter what is stolen. He asked about police success in recovering stolen property.
Lopez said most items burglarized are lost forever; in many cases, the goods are sold to get money for drugs. SPD Chief George Van Winkle added police often get letters from insurance companies stating the companies want any property recovered because they have already compensated the victims for its loss and the property now belongs to the insurance company.
Lopez said he goes to both pawn shops in town every month to check for burglarized property, and solves about one burglary a month that way. However, most burglars don’t pawn stolen items since they know they will leave a paper trail.
Lopez had recommendations that may help in case a person is the victim of theft:
- “Label your stuff … everything I buy that has any value … I etch ‘stolen from Richard Lopez’ on it in several places so they have to literally destroy whatever they’re stealing to cover it up.”
- Use an owner applied number. Lopez explained one doesn’t necessarily need serial numbers to report stolen merchandise to the National Crime Information Center; an owner applied number also works. He said he etches an owner applied number on everything he owns.
- Photograph every expensive item purchased.
- Get software that can be tracked on computers. Lopez said police solve many cases of stolen computers with software that can “ping” where the item is being used. The feature is also available for cell phones.
- Use a safe to store valuables. Safes are heavy and inconvenient for burglars to try to steal.
Lopez also said SPD can do vacation house checks for people who are leaving their residence for an extended time. He said people need only come to the police department and fill out a simple form to get vacation house checks.