By Charlie McKee
In the second in their series of meetings regarding criminal and vagrancy issues in the historic downtown area of Silver City, the newly formed Safety and Security Task Force of downtown Silver City merchants met at the Silco Theater on Monday, August 5, 2013.
Faye McCalmont, representing the Silver City Arts and Cultural District, and Steve Townley, representing Silver City MainStreet, co-chair the Task Force and hosted the meeting with Silver City Police Chief Ed Reynolds and District Attorney Francesca Estevez as guest speakers.
McCalmont first asked for brief updates from each business owner regarding any incidents of note since the last meeting. Several merchants thanked Chief Reynolds for the newly implemented presence of "beat cops" on foot in the downtown area, although they stated that the officers had been spotted only once or twice. Other attendees noted improvement, i.e. a decrease, in the presence of drug dealing and panhandling. However, it was noted that vagrants continue to "poop and pee" on the private property of merchants and property owners in the downtown area, which – while not as serious as criminal behavior – is clearly a major deterrent to attracting locals and tourists to downtown. One property owner requested that the beat cops extend their patrols to beyond the Bullard Street area and specifically to Arizona and Market Streets, where drug dealing is blatantly ongoing. Reynolds introduced the recently assigned beat cops, Officers Flores and Gonzalez, to the group and said that he would expand the territory of the beat to include all of historic downtown.
When the attendees were asked by Reynolds whether they had reported these various incidents to the police, there was varied response from the group. Those who responded that they had not done so indicated a lack of faith in any effective consequence of reporting the incidents. Those who did call the police indicated that they were pleased with both the responsiveness of the police and their treatment of the situation.
However, merchants repeatedly expressed tremendous dissatisfaction, frustration, and anger over the fact that the same perpetrators commit acts of shoplifting, burglary, drug dealing, and panhandling over and over and over again, seemingly without consequence. This frustration was posed to Chief Reynolds and to Francesca Estevez, District Attorney of the 6th Judicial District Attorney's Office. The business owners pointedly stated that there is a "revolving door" of justice in Silver City and Grant County, whereby a suspect can be reported by a business owner, arrested and appear before court, and will then be back on the street without going to jail or prison. Then these same business owners feel that they are in jeopardy of retribution from these criminals who have been caught but not punished.
Cissy McAndrew, representing her roles as director of the Visitor Center and the SW Green Chamber of Commerce, as well as being a business owner on Bullard Street, posed the question to Estevez asking how the merchants can help the District Attorney stop the revolving door syndrome. Estevez stated: "Be united and create a neighborhood watch. Call law enforcement." She also noted that the Attorney's Office and the Police Department must operate according to the laws and enforcement codes of New Mexico, which, in her opinion, are extremely lax. She encouraged the attendees and the public to take action to change New Mexico's laws where "killing a cow is a felony, and child abandonment is a misdemeanor." She stated emphatically and numerous times that corruption is rampant with respect to drug dealing in Grant County and that she would give her life to stop the drugs here.
Estevez also encouraged "Court Watch" by the merchants to make their presence known at the sentencing of criminals and thereby influence judges' behavior, as she is not ethically allowed to comment on judges' sentencing policies. She stated that, even when individuals have been tried and proven guilty numerous times for the same crime, they are often not given punitive sentences.
Both Estevez and Reynolds emphasized to the attendees that they are powerless to stop any criminal behavior if the merchants fail to a) report the crime; b) present solid evidence of a crime; and c) testify in court to the crime. They urged the attendees to follow these steps as conscientiously as possible to improve the ability of law enforcement to effectively reduce crime and vagrancy in Silver City's historic downtown area:
• Report the crime or incident immediately to law enforcement. Nothing can be done, if nothing is reported.
• Document with cell phone or other photos, as well as putting relevant date, time, and descriptive information in writing.
• Establish a pattern of behavior on the part of the suspect that law enforcement can present as evidence.
• Use surveillance cameras to document incidents, as well as circulating relevant information among the merchants to help each other.
• Organize to establish a Detox Center in Grant County. The lack of such a facility is a major flaw in the system, giving the police no options in where to take indigents who are causing problems in public.
• The more involved citizens are in reporting, documenting, and tracking repeated incidents, the more power it gives law enforcement to present a good case in court.
In conclusion, Estevez also recommended public humiliation as a deterrent to aggressive or harassing behavior, as well as taking action as a community to establish drug programs and in getting sentencing policies and laws changed in New Mexico.
Townley then informed the attendees that they would be notified via email of the next meeting, and the meeting was adjourned.