In Santa Fe, Residential Burglaries Take a Sharp Rise

Statistics point to loss of focus on narcotics crimes as driving robbery trend

"Steve definitely had talent in that area," Eric Johnson said. "He would receive information about what was going on."

The grand jury investigation into Altonji has dragged on for five months and spawned far more questions than answers. Though many close to the investigation expect an resolution in the coming weeks, spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI declined to comment on anything having to do with a grand jury. The prosecutor in the case, Reeve Swainston, and Altonji's lawyer, Richard Winterbottom, also declined to comment.

One thing clear, however, is that the FBI-led investigation into Altonji has moved on to "others in the department," said Santa Fe Mayor David Coss. Coss didn't know who the targets were but said he met in late March with acting U.S. Attorney Larry Gomez, who told him the investigation would wrap up soon.

FBI 'stirring it up'

Coss and City Attorney Frank Katz bemoaned the lack of information from federal authorities over the past five months, and blamed the FBI for sowing dissension in the ranks of the Police Department.

"There's the tension of who's trusting who and who's afraid of getting set up or who's in the wrong place at the wrong time," Coss said. "At some point, you wonder who all's under investigation."

Still, the mayor was careful not to make matters worse.

"I have my issues right now with the way the federal government is operating in Santa Fe," Coss said. "I don't want to say anything that would make them more difficult than they already are."

Katz wasn't as diplomatic.

"They keep stirring it up and stirring it up," he said. "(Problems in the Police Department are) stemming from efforts by the FBI to turn people against each other to get information. When are they actually going to come up with something?"

Bill Elwell, an FBI spokesman in Albuquerque, defended his agents, saying they investigate and talk to people at the behest of the U.S. Attorney's Office. He refused to confirm an active FBI investigation into the Santa Fe Police Department.

"We're not trying to stir it up," he said. "We're just going about doing our investigations."

He said he hopes the investigation, such that it exists, ends soon.

"We don't like to have people that have had allegations thrown at them to be left lying in the wind," Elwell said. "But we want to be thorough."

'Hire some

police officers'

Santa Fe Motor Sports, located nearly next door to the police station off Cerrillos Road, has been burglarized three times in the past six months to the tune of more than $80,000. Owner Sid Mace said his insurance rates have gone up 500 percent in the past five years and that he expected to pay $25,000 this year for his policy, but he believes the bill will be higher because of the latest theft of three motorcycles valued at $22,000.

"It's to the point where you wonder if you want to be in business," Mace said.

Yet he doesn't blame police.

"I feel for our Police Department," Mace said. "They're so understaffed. I would like to see the mayor and the City Council do something about this. Hire some police officers."

Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

Finding qualified men and women to serve as police officers is a long and complicated process, and the department must compete with surrounding counties, Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, the state police, the county jail and the state penitentiary for recruits.

Both Coss and Eric Johnson said the officer vacancy rate, which now stands at 21 with nine potential recruits in the pipeline, is the biggest problem facing the department. Once they can hire more cops and get them on the street, as well as reach some sort of resolution of the FBI-U.S. attorney investigation, the situation will improve, they said.

"The burglary rate concerns me," Coss said. "Graffiti issues concern me. We have a very professional Police Department. I'm satisfied we are doing the best we can with what we have."

Councilors also

burglary victims