Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Two violent incidents at Santa Fe Rail Runner Express stations stuck with police officials. The two crimes, which left one person dead and sent two to the hospital, occurred within a week last month.
Now, city officials, Santa Fe police and Rail Runner staff have come together to tackle public safety at the stations. Last week, the parties had a cooperative meeting to devise a game plan to increase security at the stations.
Augusta Meyers, spokeswoman for Rail Runner Express, said the service plans on upgrading the camera systems at the Santa Fe stations to high-definition versions. Rail Runner is also trying to figure out how to give Santa Fe police live access to the stations’ camera feeds.
Meyers anticipates the camera upgrade to Santa Fe stations will take 30 to 45 days.
In addition to cameras, Meyers said Rail Runner is working with Santa Fe police’s patrol schedule and will fill in the patrol gaps at the stations with a floating security guard. The guard will likely be present at the stations 30-45 minutes prior to a train’s arrival and departure.
“We’re going to keep communicating with them as needed,” Meyers said. “We felt this meeting went well and all parties came to a consensus as to what needs to be done to step up safety at SF Rail Runner stations.”
Meyers also encouraged people to report any suspicious activity on Rail Runner stations or trains to the conductors, ticketing agents or customer service.
Mayor Alan Webber, who called the meeting, said it was productive.
“I think having two events like that in close succession was a warning sign that something was wrong, and I wanted to get together the right group of people to address it,” he said.
Webber said several community members also wrote to him about concerns.
Community members should know the city is working with the responsible authorities to make sure the Rail Runner is a safe and secure way to travel, Webber said. The Rail Runner is an asset to Santa Fe and it’s important to make sure the people who use it can be safe, he said.
Webber mentioned that there have been flare-ups in other communities surrounding the Rail Runner stations that have been solved by using more public safety resources. Santa Fe hasn’t seen this before, but the city isn’t going to wait and see if it continues. They want to address it directly.
“I hope folks realize we want the best for everybody,” he said. “Whether you are using the Rail Runner or meeting somebody at the station, we want everybody to feel safe, and it’s a joint effort from all parties.”
There isn’t a set timeline for the additional security measures, but Deputy Chief Paul Joye said Santa Fe police have increased proactive patrols near the stations.
Joye said the police department also recommended adding more security cameras at the stations. There have also been talks about security patrols in the parking lots.
The parking lot at the N.M 599 station is where one of the violent crimes occurred. A 73-year-old man was shot in the face while waiting in the Rail Runner parking lot for his wife, according to the police report.
The last known condition of the man was that he was taken to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where he was in critical condition. The suspect remains at large as of press time.
Joye said people should feel safe to use the Rail Runner stations and he believes these crimes to be isolated incidents.
A week prior to the parking lot shooting, David Hernandez, 24, was fatally shot after confronting a man over the price of methamphetamine. Matthew Arellano, 22, is charged with the murder of Hernandez and is currently awaiting his preliminary hearing in First Judicial District Court.
Santa Fe has had five murders this year, compared to one through the first three months of 2020. Joye said he thought that was an anomaly, but it still puts Santa Fe on pace with some years where the city had a higher number of homicides.
In 2010, police investigated 12 homicides and there were 13 in 2007.
Joye said an arrest has been made in four of the five homicides this year. He noted that, in each case, the victim and suspect knew each other.
“These weren’t just random people and random acts,” Joye said.
He also said he can’t draw a direct connection between the rate of homicides and the easing of pandemic restrictions.
“I don’t feel we know enough to be able to link it to the lifting of COVID measures,” Joye said.
He added that there was never a threat to the public at large with these homicides.
In addition to homicides, aggravated assault/battery cases were up more than 50%, from 74 through the first three months of 2020 to 114 this year. Simple assault cases dropped 29% from 224 to 283.
Larcenies were also up from 224 in the first three months of 2020 to 283 through March of this year.
There has also been an increase in criminal sexual penetration of a minor compared to 2020’s crime statistics through the first three months of the year. In 2020, there was just one such reported case through March. In 2021, there were five.
Again, Joye said the numbers can vary. For instance, in 2019, there were eight cases of criminal sexual penetration of a minor, compared to 26 in 2018.
New unit ready to roll
The city is also implementing an alternative response unit, which will have the expertise of a police officer, paramedic and a case manager to respond to some calls. Currently, the rollout for the unit is anticipated to be May 4. Initially, it will operate two days a week. The Santa Fe Fire Department is also involved with the program.
The services might not necessarily be mental health-related and unit members are undergoing crisis-intervention training. Joye gave the example of a panhandling call, where the unit could respond and help that person with housing or employment resources.
“If I could request that people just are patient with the program, and let us develop it, and learn and figure out how we can make this work the best way that it can work,” Joye said. “There are a lot of people who have very high expectations, and we have high expectations, but we also don’t want to rush anything at the expense of doing it the right way.”
Joye said the unit has the ability to self-dispatch to determine if there’s a type of call that’s applicable to it. The unit will be able to see dispatch calls from the police and fire department, read the narratives, and determine if it is a good fit to help.
The pilot program will be consistently evaluated, Joye said, and a second unit may be launched this summer.
“We’re excited about it, and I think it’s a promising program,” Joye said.