Police chief says 'secure your home'


ALAMOSA — Generally speaking, more burglaries occur in the summer months. This is due to various warm-weather factors such as open windows and a favorable climate.

According to the Alamosa Police Department's statistics for 2017, there was one reported burglary in January, four in February, four in March, eight in April, eight in May and 13 in June. July's figures weren't finalized at time of publishing.

There hasn't been a recent major spike in burglaries, though. "I would say the numbers are consistent with years past," said APD Chief Duane Oakes. Last June there were 11 while there were also 11 in March.

It is important to note that these are burglaries reported, not necessarily prosecuted. It's possible that someone may call the police saying that a person broke into their shed and stole a tool only to realize later that their neighbor borrowed it.

Looking at the bigger picture, Oakes believes the weather is no longer a factor. "Twenty years ago wintertime was fairly quiet and in the summertime it picked up," he said. "Now, it's pretty steady across the board. It doesn't matter if it's cold or hot."

According to Oakes shoplifting has gone up over the past five years but it has now plateaued. There were an average of 50 shoplifting and other larceny reports a month in 2016 and this year's statistics are about the same.

It is possible that a rise in burglaries and shoplifting is caused by people wanting to sell or trade goods for drugs but it is hard to prove. "We can only assume that they're drug driven," Oakes said. "The items that they steal are indicative of that. Especially when they're walking by cash and other higher dollar items."

Accountant Sheila Hicks is one of those recent burglary victims. One day in July she was getting ready to go to work when she heard the front door of her house open. Moments later she saw the burglar in her living room. According to Hicks the person was flustered by being confronted and rode off on a bicycle.

"I was just so baffled that he would just walk right into the house," said Hicks. "It was just so bizarre."

That evening when her husband entered their garage they realized that the bike the perpetrator rode off on belonged to them. Along with other items disturbed, one of their backpacks was also sitting in the garage partially filled with power tools.

"They didn't get away with much," Hicks said, "but they were going to get away with a lot."

The APD says the best way to prevent this from happening is to make sure all access points are locked. "A pane of glass doesn't keep them out," said Oakes, "but an unlocked door or open window makes it's easier.

"Secure your homes, secure your property. Make it harder for people. Don't give them an opportunity to steal from you."

Since the incident Hicks has invested in security cameras and taken other precautions. "We now set our security alarm every day and we lock all of our doors when we sleep at night," she said.

Robbie Curto, a counselor at Ortega Middle School, and her husband John approached Alamosa County Commissioners during their July 26 meeting after experiencing a break-in earlier in the year. Instead of blaming or looking for compensation, they asked the commissioners what they could do to help curb the issue.

"I think just over time it's gradually gotten worse and worse," Robbie said at the meeting. "Now we're in a situation where this problem is so much bigger than what he and I can do as individuals."

Alamosa County Commissioner Helen Sigmond pointed them to Communities That Care, an evidence-based program that started in January. It holistically aims at decreasing substance abuse related risk factors while enhancing protective factors for youth.

Right now it is too early for the program to have an impact. According to Alamosa County Public Health Nurse Ann-Marie Peterson, the facilitator of the local CTC group, they're assessing the community as part as the program's third phase.

Once the assessment is complete then the proper tailored program can be chosen and implemented. The program's effectiveness will be evaluated every two years and adjusted as needed.

"We just started the phase three so I'm not sure how long exactly it's going to take us to get through that," Peterson said. "It's a long, drawn out process, but on the other hand CTC has shown significant decreases in undesirable behaviors in youth when the programs are implemented. That's our goal."

Along with Neighborhood Watch and raising awareness through community education, APD has its own set of preventative measures. Each month a group of merchants meet with officers to discuss shoplifting tactics they've witnessed in their stores and what can be done to stop thieves.

They also have trained officers to analyze businesses and homes for weak points by looking at the structure's environmental design. After inspecting they then may recommend that the owner increase exterior lighting, replace poor locks and other various improvements.

However, strained resources means that law enforcement can only do so much to prevent a crime.

"It's becoming more and more difficult for our officers to be proactive," said Oakes. "We still are doing as much as we can but it's a challenge when our officers are going from call to call to call on a daily basis."