Burglars in Santa Fe set their sights on a new target this summer: jewelry stores on East Palace Avenue.
At least five stores on Palace between the Plaza and Paseo de Peralta have reported burglaries in the past few months.
It’s unlike anything store managers have experienced in years of doing business on the street.
“We’ve never had an incident before,” said Adam Sarama, a manager at the Southwest Connection jewelry and art store for nine years.
On the morning of Aug. 14, Sarama said, someone broke the store window and made off with about $28,000 in merchandise.
Call logs from the Santa Fe Police Department show at least six burglaries were reported at stores along Palace between late May and early September. One store was hit twice.
The burglaries are part of a larger trend in Santa Fe.
Commercial burglaries were up 114 percent during the 12 months that ended July 31, according to police. The total of 103 commercial burglaries made up nearly 30 percent of all burglaries in Santa Fe. Residential burglaries dropped more than 4 percent.
Auto burglaries increased 35 percent in the 12-month period, while robberies were down 29 percent.
Greg Gurulé, a spokesman for the city police department, said those numbers don’t necessarily mean that crime is trending up.
“The incidents must be thoroughly analyzed before anyone [in] our department can comment,” he said. “You can’t look at two years of data and predict a trend from it.”
Joaquin Sanchez, who manages Sena Plaza on Palace for Southwest Asset Management, said recurring break-ins have plagued one business in his building, but said he doesn’t believe crime is rising.
“We have a lot of properties downtown,” Sanchez said. “Sometimes [there is] a pattern like this, and sometimes nothing happens.”
In general, he attributed summer break-ins to more people in the downtown area after dark, and he said police do the best they can to manage the situation.
Simon Brackley, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, said the increase in commercial break-ins is serious. He encouraged businesses to invest in security cameras, which have become cheaper.
“In that kind of retail situation, I think people have to be extremely diligent watching over their most valuable items,” Brackley said.
Shop managers are taking more precautions.
The gallery director at Grace on Palace Avenue said employees have started removing all jewelry from the store’s windows at night.
Ali Altheyab, manager of nearby Nakai Indian Jewelry, replaced his window with reinforced glass after two separate smash-and-grab burglaries.
Southwest Connection is planning to install bars on some windows, Sarama said.
Sarama worries about tourism, too. The day after the jewelry store was most recently broken into, he said, plenty of passersby came in to ask about what had happened. His concern is that tourists who see broken windows might start to worry about their safety while they’re out and about wearing expensive jewelry.
“We start having these break-ins and nobody is going to want to come out here anymore,” Sarama said. “It’s not good for the city.”
Gurulé said the police department increased patrols in high-incidence areas. He declined to discuss police tactics for targeting burglars for fear of tipping them off.
He said the addition of two officers on three-wheel, motorized Segways to regularly patrol downtown should increase security.
In the five years that Altheyab has managed Nakai, the store hadn’t been broken into until recently. Now, it’s been hit twice.
In May, burglars broke the window of the high-end jewelry store and snatched about $8,000 in merchandise, Altheyab said.
Over Labor Day weekend, a would-be thief smashed the store’s window and tried to make away with $14,000 worth of goods. Police caught a suspect after being tipped off by three teenagers who saw the crime.
“I saw a man reaching his hand inside the window,” one of the teenagers told The New Mexican. “I was like, that guy is actually robbing the store. That’s expensive jewelry!”
The teenager ran down the block to alert officers he had seen at the Plaza. According to a police report, one of the teens also took a video of the burglary, which helped officers identify the suspect, Jeff Padilla, 56.
Officers found Padilla around a corner from the store in possession of thousands of dollars of jewelry, drug paraphernalia and a pair of wire cutters, according to a police report.
Court documents show that Padilla is facing charges of burglary, criminal damage, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of burglary tools. He was released from jail on a $2,500 bond and is scheduled for a hearing next month.
The teenage witnesses said they didn’t want publicity.
“It was just the right thing to do,” said the boy who ran to alert the cops. “I didn’t want to get in the paper or anything like that.”
The three youths returned to Nakai jewelry to check in with Altheyab the day after the crime. He handed each of them a $20 bill and told them to have lunch on him.
“Thank you again, guys,” Altheyab said, taking a break from an interview with The New Mexican. “God bless you.”
The New Mexican’s Justin Horwath contributed to this story.
Contact Sami Edge at email@example.com or 505-986-3055.