RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A Rio Rancho police speed enforcement van was found in flames late Wednesday night, prompting an arson investigation, then a scolding from public safety officials and the mayor who say the incident is “not to be applauded.”
“It is irresponsible for anyone to speculate, via the media or any other platform, that a lot of people in the community would be rooting for and applauding the actions of someone committing arson as an appropriate solution to disagreeing with a Police Department program,” Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull was quoted saying in a joint news release issued by the Rio Rancho police and fire departments Friday.
Rio Rancho Police Capt. Ron Vigil said the incident is being investigated as an arson.
“The destruction of property, which could jeopardize the safety and well-being of lives and/or other property, is illegal and, if this incident is found to be arson, those responsible will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible,” Police Chief Stewart Steele said in the news release.
Around 11 p.m. Wednesday, Rio Rancho firefighters and officers responded to a call reporting a vehicle on fire in the 1000 block of Nicklaus Drive SE, according to police. It turned out to be a speed van that had been deployed in the neighborhood to deter speeding in that residential area, which is near Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School.
It was after that, city officials said Friday, that “comments have been made by Rio Rancho residents suggesting public support for the destruction of property in Rio Rancho.”
“The Rio Rancho Police Department and Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue are warning citizens that purposely setting fire to property is illegal and dangerous, and encouraging and condoning this type of criminal behavior is inappropriate,” the Friday news release from the agencies reads.
Rio Rancho Fire Rescue Chief Michael Meek said first responders face risks when responding to emergencies.
“We can only hope that recent statements do not encourage unlawful acts that cause expensive damage, and risk the safety of our citizens and responders,” Meek said.
Vigil said the department has eight speed vans, which are each valued at $130,000.
“We experience a couple vandalisms each year,” he said. “Typically broken windows or graffiti.”
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to contact the Rio Rancho Police Department’s non-emergency number, 891-7226, and reference Case No. 1800101.