Between 150 and 200 local business owners and residents attended a June 2 public safety forum hosted by the Las Cruces Home Builders Association (LCHBA). The meeting was held because of concerns local builders, other business owners and residents have expressed about an increase in thefts and property damage.
More than a dozen people spoke on the same issue during the public input portion of the Las Cruces City Council’s June 6 work session.
Speaking at the work session, Mayor Ken Miyagishima, who owns a business on south Solano Drive, said he has had people “stealing my stuff, breaking my windows, trying to break in.”
The mayor said he conducted his own investigation of the causes of the increase in property crimes, saying he spoke to Municipal Judge Joy Goldbaum; state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Doña Ana, who is chair of the state Senate Judiciary Committee; and a Las Cruces district judge. Miyagishima said he learned that the issue is the Bail Reform Act, a constitutional amendment approved by the New Mexico Legislature (state Senate vote: 29-9; state House of Representatives vote: 69-0) and passed by state voters by a margin of 87 percent in favor to 13 percent against in 2016.
Here is language from the act: “A person who is not detainable on grounds of dangerousness nor a flight risk in the absence of bond and is otherwise eligible for bail shall not be detained solely because of financial inability to post a money or property bond.”
As a result, people who are arrested are almost immediately released because they cannot be held unless they are deemed a flight risk or a danger to society, Miyagishima said. The language in the act needs to be changed, he said, through another constitutional amendment to give judges leeway in determining release.
“I’m not here to criminalize homeless,” the mayor said. “This applies to everyone.”
Here are comments from others attending one or both meetings:
- “I want to express my discontent with your solutions, Mayor,” Neil Campbell of Hakes Brothers construction said at the work session; he also spoke at the LCHBA meeting. “We can’t wait on the state that has done us no justice. We must take it into our own hands to make sure we have a safe community. We have to combat fire with fire. Book ’em every single time. Give the police department all the resources they need … until we can solve the legislative issue.” Campbell said Hakes Brothers builds about 300 houses a year in Las Cruces and the cost of each one is increased by about $2,000 because of theft.
- “We need your support to make sure we do hold these people accountable,” said Las Cruces Police Chief Miguel Dominquez. The Las Cruces Police Department has 202 authorized positions, Dominguez said, and currently has 171 officers. Twenty-six cadets will graduate June 17 from the police academy, he said, bringing LCPD to 197. The chief said a small number of people within the homeless community are responsible for a disproportionate level of vandalism, theft and other property crimes in the city. One individual has been arrested 14 times since February, Dominguez said, and another has been arrested 10 times. Many lawbreakers are using drugs, Dominguez said, especially fentanyl and methamphetamine. Dominguez said the maximum number of inmates that can be held at the county detention center is down because of Covid restrictions.
- Business owners should mark their tools and equipment with identification numbers so they can be returned when they are recovered, said County Sheriff’s Department Major John Day. He also said businesses could benefit from additional lighting, noting that criminals are targeting construction sites between midnight and 6 a.m., and inexpensive camera systems. “Help us help you,” Day said.
- “If you want to get serious about crime, get serious about reducing poverty,” Mayor Pro Tempore Kasandra Gandara said at the LCHBA meeting. Gandara said she has recently held four community meetings to discuss poverty, homelessness, crime and other issues. The city is addressing homelessness, she said, including creating a program that provides jobs with the city Parks and Recreation Department for people struggling with homelessness. The city is also addressing mental health issues and affordable housing, Gandara said. It’s also important for businesses to build better relationships with LCPD officers, she said.
- “We’re serving as many people as we can,” said Mesilla Valley Community of Hope Executive Director Nicole Martinez. MVCH, which includes Camp Hope tent city for people struggling with homelessness, has not experienced a big increase in residents, she said, and homeless people are not being bused into Las Cruces, as a speaker at the LCHBA meeting suggested.