Howard Marks felt a chill as he walked into his south-side Santa Fe home Thursday evening, leading him to wonder why it was so cold in the house.
When he made his way to his bedroom, he found the answer: shattered glass and a large rock on the floor.
Sometime between 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., a burglar had broken a glass sliding door at his Big Sky Road home, near the Santa Fe Place mall, and hauled away his 24-inch television set.
As Marks — who recently moved to Santa Fe from New York — boarded up the door Friday, he noted that, “As far as these things go, it’s a minor set of losses, but it’s more annoying and frustrating than anything.”
According to Santa Fe police statistics, property crimes rose slightly in 2012 compared to 2011. Residential burglaries like the one reported by Marks increased to 802 from 782 the previous year.
However, in the last six months of 2012, the city’s residential burglary statistics declined significantly from the first half of the year, something Santa Fe police attribute to an effort they call “Operation Full Court Press.”
The average number of burglaries per month in the first half of 2012 was 82, including a staggering 124 residential burglaries in May. In the final six months, during Operation Full Court Press, the average number of residential burglaries per month dropped to 51.
Santa Fe County, meanwhile, recorded its lowest residential burglary numbers in four years.
In addition to continuing Operation Full Court Press in 2013, Santa Fe police are working with city officials and a long list of treatment and rehabilitation facilities to create a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program as an alternative to continuing a perpetual cycle of incarcerating repeat offenders.
LEAD task force groups have been meeting over the past several months to develop a diversion plan that would offer drug treatment and supervision for offenders, rather than automatic jail time. Chief Ray Rael said an officer, after arresting a suspect, would enroll that person in a drug-treatment program rather than take him or her to jail.
Both Santa Fe police and the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office agree that the underlying problem feeding burglary numbers in the Santa Fe area is drugs — primarily heroin and prescription narcotics.
“Nearly every single person we’ve arrested has either admitted to drug addiction or there has been evidence of drug addiction,” Rael said.
According to FBI statistics for 2011, the Santa Fe area (the city and the county, including parts of Española) ranked second in the country only to Pine Bluff, Ark., in residential burglaries per 100,000 residents.
Attacking burglary and drugs in 2013
Operation Full Court Press originally was planned as a six-month effort to lower the climbing burglary numbers. Rael says that the effort will now continue on a long-term basis with some minor adjustments.
The continuing aspects of the operation include keeping officers focused on high-crime areas, prioritizing reports that have the best information and serving outstanding warrants on people who have a history of property crimes in the city. In order to reduce overtime hours associated with the operation, Rael said, he has assigned more officers to his department’s Property Crimes Unit.
In Santa Fe County, Sheriff Robert Garcia says similar tactics have led to record-low property-crime numbers for his department. Garcia has moved some deputies from main highways to residential areas known to be targets of burglars. Garcia also has instructed officers to appear at arraignments and to communicate with the District Attorney’s Office so that repeat offenders are treated as such and are required to spend more time in jail.
“The trend is that they post bond and continue their crime sprees,” Garcia said.
In 2012, Santa Fe police made 143 adult arrests on charges of burglary or receiving/transferring stolen property, up from 106 in 2011 and 88 in 2010.
While a pre-booking diversion plan could help with efforts to control drug sales and drug addiction on the street level, Santa Fe police are also working on attacking the suppliers who feed illegal drugs onto Santa Fe streets. Rael said the department currently has five officers in the Region III Narcotics Task Force, including two new officers assigned exclusively to the city of Santa Fe.
LEAD, a pre-booking diversion model
The Santa Fe LEAD task force is examining a pilot program under way in the Seattle area and creating a program that would fit Santa Fe’s demographics and specific issues.
The community-based intervention program in King County, Wash., has established a precedent that Memphis, Tenn., and cities in Pennsylvania have followed.
According to LEAD program literature, the program looks to process low-level drug offenders and property-crime offenders in a cost-effective and sustainable way through pre-booking diversion. The program in Seattle allows police, when making a property crime or drug arrest, to determine if the offender is amenable to treatment. If so, rather than being booked into jail, the person is taken to a clinic, where he is assessed, given immediate care and referred to treatment services.
Rael said the LEAD task force in Santa Fe has to determine what basic criteria will work in Santa Fe. After referral for treatment, according to Seattle’s model, the offender’s case would be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office. If the offender failed the treatment program or failed to cooperate, charges would be filed and the offender arrested.
A study of the LEAD program in Seattle by the University of Washington says offenders enrolled in pre-booking diversion plans were 26 percent less likely to re-offend.
Rael says the LEAD program could be a way to end “the revolving door” problem of arresting burglars who spend two days in jail, then get out and re-offend. “It’s our responsibility to create an avenue for people to treat their problems and divert someone that is salvageable so that they can get assistance and become productive members of society,” Rael said.
At Santa Fe’s first LEAD task force meeting in October, attended by leaders from treatment centers such as the Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families and the Solace Crisis Treatment Center, several people offered their concerns about the current system.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” City Councilor Bill Dimas said.
An argument for the pre-booking diversion program through LEAD is that it would lower costs for prosecutors and public defenders, courts and even jail-based health care associated with incarcerating addicted and mentally ill offenders.
Santa Fe County Director of Health Rachel O’Connor said the current system is “set up for failure.”
Mayor David Coss said recently that he hopes the LEAD task force can establish a plan so that a budget, possibly made up of private grants and federal funding, can be approved for implementation of LEAD in 2014.
Contact Nico Roesler at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nicoroesler.