Burglars busy in Socorro

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Burglars have been busier than usual over the past four months, and lately Socorro is up to four burglaries per day. Police strongly recommend residents secure their property.

During an interview Tuesday, SPD Detective Richard Lopez said at least four burglaries a day had been reported to SPD over the preceding week, many targeting firearms. The gun stealing has been happening in the city and at New Mexico Tech.

He strongly advises residents to secure their property, no matter which part of town they live in.

"We need the public to do their part," Lopez said. "People need to secure their weapons, lock their homes, report suspicious people in the neighborhood."

Lopez said most incidents have been crimes of opportunity — burglars look for unlocked doors and sellable items left out in the yard. He observed it is easier for a burglar to find an open door than to jimmy a lock.

"As police we do what we can, but we also need people to do what they can to prevent it," Lopez said.

He said burglars case neighborhoods for unsecured items and jiggle doorknobs to discover unlocked doors, and activity is spread all over town. He noted police are seeing burglaries in more affluent Socorro neighborhoods that have not traditionally been target areas. People in those neighborhoods sometimes become lax about locking their doors or leaving things in their yards, he said, but everyone all over town should be vigilant about securing property. He repeatedly cautioned all residents, no matter the neighborhood, to secure their homes and report suspicious people to police.

Lopez said many burglaries are committed by multiple offenders, many already on parole or probation at the time they commit the crimes.

"Almost every one of them is addicted to heroin,"

Lopez said. "That's what's fueling it."Lopez said Socorro's burglaries usually slow down for a while once police take certain repeat offenders into custody, but lately that hasn't been the case. He said there are phases of burglary activity in Socorro; when police catch 10 people, they usually see the rate of burglaries drop for a while. However, lately the rate keeps going up in spite of arrests.

"We're a little bit shocked at how they're not going down," he said. "People are stealing left and right lately."

Lopez said police usually notice a spike in burglar activity right before Christmas, "but nothing like this." Plus, burglary activity seems to be ramping up earlier than usual, and Lopez doesn't anticipate it will let up.

Lopez speculated drug use and the slow economy could be contributing factors, noting that about all of the suspects arrested have a drug habit. He said in addition to repeat offenders, police have been arresting burglars who have no prior criminal records but seem to be doing it out of desperation to support drug habits. He added police encounter many situations of drug addicts stealing from their own family members.

"It's gotten so you can't trust anybody," Lopez said.

Lopez estimated SPD solves about 80 percent of local burglaries reported, retrieving a lot of stolen property and returning it to the victims. He strongly cautions residents about buying things from somebody who doesn't provide a receipt, who is offering a deal "too good to be true." He said people who buy stolen property can be charged with receiving stolen property, and police will prosecute people who buy stolen goods "just like the criminal" who stole the goods.

Lopez said SPD Detective Rocky Fernandez has solved several burglaries over the past month and arrested suspects. Fernandez, with the help of Kyle Haley, investigator at the 7th Judicial District Attorney's Office, also recently solved an armed robbery that occurred at Burger King about six months ago.

Lopez recently arrested Bartolo Saiz, who Lopez believes may be responsible for over 12 burglaries over the past month. He added police may connect Saiz to several more based on evidence gathered over the past few days.

Saiz had a first appearance in Magistrate Court on Tuesday on charges of burglary and larceny, two counts each. Magistrate Judge Jim Naranjo set his bond at $34,000 cash or surety.

Lopez said another major burglary case he, Fernandez and Haley worked on involved firearms stolen from Magdalena, which were found in Socorro. Police charged Philemon Padilla in that case.