Covid-19 contributes to increase in city violent and property crimes

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By Mike Cook

The City of Las Cruces saw an increase in both violent crime and property crime in 2020 and in the first four months of 2021, Las Cruces Police Chief Miguel Dominguez told the Las Cruces City Council during a recent work session.

Dominguez said much of the increase, including commercial burglaries and domestic violence, has been due to the pandemic. He said LCPD is working with the community, local groups and organizations and area law enforcement to reduce the crime rate and increase LCPD’s accountability, transparency and community engagement.

“Thank you for the great relationship that we do share with our community,” the chief said. “I couldn’t be prouder of our department and our civilian staff. The entire pandemic, we did not relent on our services.”

The chief said LCPD “was inundated with calls at the start of pandemic,” including many calls related to masks. The department was able to “bring those calls down through pro-active efforts,” he said.

The chief said LCPD had 145,408 incident reports in 2020 and 47,300 during the first four months of 2021. Those numbers include 168,156 calls for service in 2020 and 55,192 in 2021.

2020 crime stats

Dominguez said violent crime increased 13 percent from 2019 (483 total violent crimes reported) to 2020 (546 total). There were 11 criminal homicides each year; 44 sexual assaults in 2020, down from 71 in 2019; 54 robberies in 2020 compared to 57 in 2019; and 437 aggravated assaults in 2020 compared to 344 in 2019.

The chief said aggravated assaults included a 35 percent increase in reports of domestic violence, of which 20 percent of victims did not want to pursue prosecution against their abusers. Health and law enforcement officials have reported that pandemic stay-at-home orders have caused sharp spikes in domestic violence across the country.

The chief said property crime increased 26 percent from 2019 (3,572 reports) to 2020 (4,396 reports), including burglaries of businesses that were closed because of Covid. There were also a number of non-residential burglaries of storage facilities. There were 510 burglaries reported in 2019, compared to 776 in 2020; 2,762 reports of larceny/theft in 2019, compared to 3,145 in 2020; 297 vehicle thefts in 2019 compared to 469 in 2020; and three cases of arson in 2019 compared to six in 2020.

Five-year trends

Dominguez said the city’s five-year trend in violent crime shows 251 reports in 2016, 245 in 2017, 395 in 2018, 483 in 2019 and 546 in 2020. The increase since 2018 is attributable in part to a new way of reporting that includes all crimes related to each reported crime, he said. For example, Dominguez said, if a burglary and an auto theft were part of the same incident, they had previously been counted as a single crime. Since 2018, they have been reported as separate crimes. About 20 percent of crimes reported in 2020 involved another crime, he said.

The city’s five-year trend for property crime has shown a decline, Dominguez said. In 2016, 4,789 property-crime incidents were reported, compared to 4,486 in 2017, 3,648 in 2018, 3,572 in 2019 and 4,396 in 2020, the chief said.

2021 year to date crime stats

From Jan. 1 through April 30, 2021, Dominguez said there was a 43 percent increase in violent crime compared to the first four months of 2020: 187 reports in 2021 and 131 in 2020. He said one homicide was reported during that period in 2021 compared to none in 2020; 26 robberies in 2021 compared to 15 in 2020; 13 sexual assaults reported each year; and 147 aggravated assaults in 2021 compared to 103 in 2020.

Dominguez said 1,448 property crimes were reported in the first four months of 2021 compared to 1,358 in January to April 2020, a 7 percent increase. That includes a decrease in residential burglaries from 82 to 72; a decrease in commercial burglaries from 55 to 49; an increase in non-residential burglaries from 49 to 71; a decrease in reports of breaking and entering from 43 to 35; an increase in auto burglaries from 237 to 360; 75 reports of felony larceny/theft in each reporting period; a decrease in miscellaneous larceny/theft from 726 reports to 597; an increase in vehicle thefts from 91 to 186; and an increase in arson from zero cases in 2020 to three in 2021.

Community policing

Efforts to reduce crime through community policing initiatives include: LCPD’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign; interagency intelligence sharing; directed patrols; community and retail partnerships; a push to increase online reporting; and information sharing.

“We cannot do this without the support of all of our partners,” the chief said. “I want to thank the City of Las Cruces for the support they’ve shown to all of us through some very difficult times. We are doing everything that we can to build the trust within our community.”

Motor vehicle thefts rise in 2021

Las Cruces has seen a sharp increase in the number of auto thefts reported in the first four-plus months of 2021 compared to last year, the Las Cruces Police Department said in a news release.

The release said LCPD recorded 186 motor vehicles thefts from Jan. 1 through May 15, 2021, a 104 percent increase compared to the 91 motor vehicle thefts during the same period in 2020.

LCPD’s Crime Analysis Unit has made these determinations about the 2021 thefts:

  • Method used. 11 percent: Keys to the stolen vehicle had been previously lost or stolen; 31 percent: Keys were lost, stolen or left in the vehicle, or the person believed to be responsible for the theft was left in the vehicle; 8 percent: stolen vehicle was left running and unattended.
  • Recovery rate. 65 percent of motor vehicles stolen in Las Cruces are recovered; 46 percent are recovered by LCPD officers; 90 percent of vehicles recovered are within Doña Ana County.
  • Location of thefts. 70 percent were stolen from city residential areas; 58 percent from single-family residences; 30 percent from commercial locations; 26 percent from commercial locations are likely taken from a hotel or motel parking lot.
  • Top five stolen vehicles by make. Chevrolet: 21 percent (58 percent are trucks); Honda: 11 percent (77 percent are sedans); Ford: 10 percent (35 percent are trucks); Toyota: 6 percent (50 percent are sedans); Nissan: 6 percent (75 percent are sedans).

So far in 2021, LCPD said, approximately 32 percent of stolen motor vehicle reports have resulted in an arrest or a warrant for arrest or have otherwise been closed. In four cases, firearms were known to be in the vehicle that was stolen.

Tips to prevent car theft:

  • Do not leave vehicles running and unattended.
  • Do not leave vehicles running, unattended and with children inside.
  • Do not leave keys inside the vehicle.
  • Invest in and use an audible alarm system with an automatic kill switch that prevents vehicle from being started.
  • Ensure that all windows are etched with the vehicle identification number (VIN).
  • Close and lock windows and doors when leaving vehicles unattended.
  • If possible, park vehicle in a garage or within a gated area.
  • Do not leave keys to home, business or other properties inside vehicle.
  • Do not leave garage-door remote openers in vehicle.
  • Do not leave vehicle title or personal or financial documents in vehicle.
  • Do not leave firearms inside vehicles.
  • Immediately report suspicious persons or activity in your neighborhood.
  • Immediately report a stolen vehicle by calling LCPD at 575-526-0795. Be prepared to provide the make, model and color of vehicle along with the VIN and current license plate number.



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