Local group seeks improved law enforcement
Last updated 10/9/2018 at 5:22pm
FORT SUMNER — Area residents stung by a rash of burglaries, thefts and vandalism in and around town gathered Sept. 26 to debate the community’s law enforcement situation.
The informal gathering at the Fort Sumner Senior Citizens Center was not publicly advertised or promoted, and the 15 persons that attended learned of the meeting through word of mouth.
Among those in attendance were Fort Sumner Mayor Louie Gallegos and Councilor Albert Sena. Sheriff candidate Chad Roybal attended as well, while his opponents, Lynita Lovorn and Kurt Griego told the De Baca County News they were not aware of the meeting or might have attended as well.
Local resident Jerry Gideon, who admitted he has had personal issues with Sheriff’s Department personnel, said his efforts to convince officers to respond to complaints have led to his being banned from entering the sheriff’s office through issuance of a “no trespass order.”
Gideon said he asked those present to attend in order to call attention to the lack of a law enforcement presence in the community and the growing crime element that he said seems to have nothing standing in its way.
“We can’t go on much longer with the way it is here,” Gideon said. “We’ve been ripped off, banged around and threatened … you’d think the sheriff would be here.”
Saying he is no tough guy, Gideon predicted that “somebody is going to get hurt, that’s the big thing. I’ve worked long hours to get what I have and I’m not going to let anyone get off with my property.”
Sheriff Elva Harvey, whose department was the focus of the meeting, was not present and told the De Baca County News that she “was unaware of the meeting,” adding, “I would have liked to have attended, but I was not advised.”
Harvey’s two-year term as sheriff ends Dec. 31. Although eligible, she is not seeking re-election.
“I would have loved to give my input,” Harvey said. “Some things seem to get twisted around.”
Two representatives of the New Mexico State Police, Lt. Cleo Baker and Officer Leo Torres, participated in the discussion and offered assistance to frustrated property owners, saying officers will respond and handle cases as requested.
Adding that his officers “have handled quite a few cases” in De Baca County over recent months, Baker said the best deterrent for local citizens is to “keep an eye for what’s happening.”
“Know your neighbors,” Lt. Baker said. “If you see something, pick up the phone.”
Without naming specific people, Gideon referred to individuals whom community members know are involved in many of the recent incidents, but seem able to evade capture.
He also asked Baker if his officers could serve a 4 1/2-month-old warrant on a local fugitive who is repeatedly seen walking the streets by citizens, but has evaded the sheriff’s office.
Baker said his officers would enforce the warrant, although it might require a search warrant to enter a residence to find the fugitive.
Prompted by Gideon’s statement that the De Baca County Sheriff’s Department “ignores” Fort Sumner residents, Baker said he has also met with De Baca County Communications personnel concerning the lack of, or delayed response to calls for service by DBSO.
“If a call comes in and (DBSO) does not respond, we will,” Baker said. “But realize that it takes time to get here.”
Baker said the State Police have been in and around Fort Sumner often in recent months and have been able to take a lot of illegal drugs off the street, but mostly from persons who are just passing through.
Saying the property crime spike in Fort Sumner has a basis in the community’s drug problems, local resident Steve Gonzales questioned Baker about the Region V Drug Task Force and whether or not the De Baca County Sheriff’s Department has access to its assistance.
Baker said State Police are not members of the task force, which he said is made up of officers from county and city departments in the area. He said it would be up to the sheriff to decide whether or not to participate in the task force.
Baker added that the NMSP Special Investigations Bureau recently received an appropriation of funding for special projects and expects some undercover officers to begin operations in the area.
“It’s getting tough over here,” said Gonzales, who added that he has been “broken into.”
“I sleep with a gun,” Gonzales added. “For the size of our little town, there’s a lot of drugs and thieving going on here.”
Asked by Mayor Gallegos if the DBSO is using the resources available to them, Baker said the sheriff’s department has called for and received State Police assistance.
“But we are not coming over here to take over,” Baker added. “We are coming to help.”
Baker, whose district includes De Baca, Curry and Roosevelt counties, said the passive approach to law enforcement by De Baca County personnel “is not a common problem.” He said the sheriff’s departments in Curry and Roosevelt counties, as well as the Clovis and Portales police departments are aggressive in enforcing the law.
“Don’t be surprised if we come to town and start ‘hanging paper’ on people,” Baker said. “But it will be because you asked.”
Baker added that in his nine years of service in the Clovis office, law enforcement is currently “the busiest” he has ever seen it.
A former sheriff’s deputy and drug task force agent, Gallegos said his greatest concern is that people seeking to protect their property will feel the need to take matters into their own hands “and shoot the wrong person.”
Gonzales called on the village officials present to seek a meeting with county commissioners and the sheriff to seek solutions.
“We need to start cleaning up this drug (problem) and the thieving will go away,” Gonzales said. “We are getting farther and farther behind.”
Councilor Albert Sena agreed that the city council could get together with Harvey and discuss the concerns. Mayor Gallegos agreed, saying,” We have that right.”
Harvey told the De Baca County News that lack of personnel is the largest hurdle for her department.
“A staff of two or three, including me, has a hard time getting the coverage everyone wants,” Harvey said.
She added that the State Police “have always been real supportive” and she plans to continue to work closely with NMSP.