GRANTS –Violent crime has been on the rise in the Cibola County, resulting in the deaths of Weston Cohoe, John Rains, Jose Rivera and William FVilrohlich.
There have been several other beatings such as the most recent, allegedly between Troy Elkins and James Latham, also known as Bruce, and Brad Latham, that did not result in death, but was also a violent crime.
Public safety personnel and some elected officials in the county met last week to discuss the problem since it has become a hot topic within the community.
Represented at the meeting were administrators from the City of Grants and the county, police officers, 13th Judicial District Attorney staff members and counseling agency staff. Sheriff Johnny Valdez hosted the meeting per the request of county Commissioner Antonio “Tony” Gallegos.
“Reality is, violent crime has risen,” Sheriff Johnny Valdez said as he opened the meeting. “This is our community, this is a start and we are here to combat crime.”
Two students from NMSU, who are majoring in social work, presented the group with a recent video assignment of theirs named “disaster within your community.” Darlene Barela and Tehnijah Jake chose to do the assignment because they noticed the rise in violent crime.
The students noted several key factors they felt might help a community fight violent crime, one being multidisciplinary team. Cibola County’s team recently dwindled to nothing. Kristina Faught-Hollar, a representative at the meeting from the district attorney’s office, pointed out, “Many of the people on the board became burnt out. The team was no longer a priority of the leaders involved.”
However, Barela and Jakes suggested the team is needed. “We need to find committed people for the team,” said Jakes. They also pointed out that the battle starts at an early of age, “In the schools and at home,” said Jakes. They explained that signs of future violent offenders are cruelty to animals and bullying.
Undersheriff Tony Mace said he and the sheriff are implementing an anti-bullying program at the schools that will be in full effect in the next school year. “And this is no cheap program,” said Mace. “We will have some celebrities come to Grants to kick it off. The program also demands that teachers are trained. There have been good results nationwide.”
“Lastly, we need to view ourselves as one,” Barela told the group. “We need to work together, communicate and fight crime.”
Following the video presentation, the discussion among the leaders was directed toward police pay, courts and community policing.
Police pay in Grants and Milan is poor, to say the least, according to representatives from GPD and the sheriff’s department. New Grants City Councilor Ruben Sandoval asked the chiefs of police at the meeting why they do not pursue drug investigations. Grants’ chief Steve Sena answered, “Because of manpower. We are short of officers.”
Lt. Maxine Spidle, a veteran officer, explained that in 2002, GPD had a narcotics team. “Today, we are lucky to have enough people for regular patrol. If we had a narcotics team and a cop in the schools, it would help.”
Grants Chief of Police Steve Sena added, “The few officers we have are here because they have ties, not because of pay.”
Currently, Grants, Milan and State Police Departments all have substantially reduced staffs. One chief complained that this is a mean cycle. He said, “We train them, spend six months getting them certified, and then, when they are certified, they go for more pay elsewhere.”
Grants officers start at $11.25 uncertified and $13.25 certified. Milan is $10.50 uncertified and $13.25 certified and the sheriff’s department at $11.55 certified and $10.50 uncertified.
Cibola County Manager Scott Vinson, changed the direction of the meeting when he said, “You want to know part of the problem, where are the judges? The Detention Center is not a turn cycle. Ask the judges what their sentencing patterns are? If you are really concerned, start sitting in sentencing sessions at the courts.”
Deputy Steve Chavez said, “I’ve learned that people will commit crimes in a community to the limit they are allowed. They will push it to the limit.”
Pointed out at the meeting, was recent public record from the Beacon’s Cops and Crime page. A man was convicted for his third DWI and was only sentenced to 180 days in jail of which 90 days were suspended and 274 days supervised probation.
“The whole system is flawed,” Vinson added. “The DA’s office is also overwhelmed.”
“It is a vicious cycle,” said Village of Milan Trustee Ellen Baca. “Like the students said, we need to work together.”
Sheriff Valdez closed the meeting stating that there would be another session soon. “These meetings are not trustee, council or commission meetings. These meetings are community meetings to combat crime,” he said.