Local officials reacted to an Associated Press article, originally printed in the July 2 Alamogordo Daily News, in which District Attorney Diana Martwick stated, “We had big-time gangs here involved in the killing of a U.S. consulate (worker and her husband). They’ve been involved in all our violent crimes lately. … I want to get a handle on it (Zeta presence) before we become the next Roswell.”
The second AP article, published in Tuesday’s Daily Record, listed Farmington and Roswell as the communities with the biggest gang problems.
Few people in city government debate that Roswell has gangs. “No one will deny that we have our problems, but we believe we have been proactive in fighting crime. … Many of the problems that we have here are not unique to us. They are nationwide problems, but one thing we won’t do is point our finger at another city and say, ‘So-and-so is worse than us,’” said City Administrator Larry Fry.
Mayor Del Jurney did not appreciate Martwick’s statements, either. “She spoke with no concrete evidence and no documentation.”
RPD have been receiving phone calls from frightened citizens since the articles first appeared.
Roswell Police Chief Alfonso Solis wanted to assure people that to the best of his knowledge Roswell does not have gangs like Zeta. “I’ll not deny that we have gangs here, but they are not organized.”
He viewed the massive drug bust last year that netted 84 arrests as a preventative measure. Solis said it was a message to any criminals that the RPD would not tolerate drugs or crime in Roswell. “We were not targeting anyone because of organized crime connections. The round-up targeted those people who have a history of dealing.” Since then, the RPD continues to make drug arrests and none of the people arrested had any known association with the Zetas.
New Mexico State Police Capt. Dina Orozco said the State Police has not seen an increase in gangs or gang activity in Roswell.
Chaves County Sheriff Rob Coon said, “We have our crime, but we, the PD and State Police are working very hard to combat crime. We don’t just stick our heads in the sand. We are investigating the cartels, and these things take time.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Britt Snyder pointed to New Mexico Department of Public Safety’s Uniform Crime Statistics in his response. “In 2011, Chaves County had a population of 61,380 and a total number of 1,729 reported crimes, compared to Clovis with 1,991 crimes, with a county population of 33,810.” He also noted that Otero County, with a population of 37,000, had 1,678 crimes listed in 2011.
“I’ll admit we have our problems, but nothing to justify the Otero County DA’s statement that Otero was not as bad as Albuquerque or Roswell,” Snyder said. In fact, he said the statistics for violent crime were dropping, with no homicides reported during the first six months of 2012. He believes that the presence of Mexican drug cartels is common in southern New Mexico and not unique to Roswell. “Anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves.”
District Attorney Janetta Hicks agreed with Snyder. “Roswell is on the secondary drug route out of Mexico for drugs, but we are not the primary route, and Roswell is not the destination,” she added.
“The District Attorney’s office has seen a 32 percent increase in case load and 12 percent decrease in staff.” Hicks admitted that Roswell has a generational gang issue and credited some of the increase in burglaries to the economic downturn. She said that economic development is an important issue to create new jobs, and views drugs as a community issue. She noted that she grew up in Roswell and does not “feel unsafe going out on to the streets even at night.”
“Every community has to struggle with the economic downturn which results with an increase of petty crime,” said Jurney.
Not even a representative from the New Mexico Gang Task Force could document an increase in gang-related activity or a Zeta presence in Roswell.
Tamara Marcante said, “I had never heard of it until that article (in the Alamogordo Daily News), but it would be hard to comment, since we get no statistics from the southeast section of the state.”
Fry praised the police. “The RPD does a very good job in keeping the community safe. We have a strong police chief and two strong deputy chiefs.
… We continue to have issues like copper theft, but the police are working cooperatively with businesses. …”
Solis, too, complimented his officers and members of the Chaves County-Metro Drug Task force for their work.
Jurney preferred to emphasize the positive. “Roswell is a fine community. I feel safe here. Crime is definitely not who we are.”