Violent crime in Santa Fe dropped during the coronavirus pandemic, but the city saw a rise in car thefts and break-ins, even as many residents remained isolated in their homes, according to data from the Santa Fe Police Department.

Prior to the pandemic, major crimes such as homicide, robbery, vehicle theft and arson had been decreasing. Santa Fe has not seen double-digit homicide numbers since 2010, when there were 12 in the city. Robberies have decreased by 40 percent since 2012 and arson by 54 percent.

While 2020 saw some of these trends continue, it also saw an unexpected rise in certain crimes.

Police department data shows homicide numbers dropped by over half between 2019 and 2020 — to three from eight — as did assaults and commercial break-ins. In comparison, residential burglaries decreased by 14 percent in 2020, and robberies decreased 12 percent.

Meanwhile, the city saw a nearly 19 percent rise in residential break-ins and a 24 percent increase in motor vehicle thefts.

Kyra Ochoa, director of the city’s Community Health and Safety Department, which oversees the police department, said it’s difficult to determine why residential burglaries and break-ins did not decline significantly during a time when the state’s stay-at-home orders were in place. There’s no way to calculate how many people remained in their homes most of the time.

“We don’t have any numbers that measure that,” Ochoa said, “We don’t have anything to measure who were they and why were they home. Were people coming to their second homes? Are we discounting how many essential workers had to be out there?”

Santa Fe police Deputy Chief Paul Joye said burglaries often are crimes of opportunity, and those opportunities were not necessarily diminished due to the state’s pandemic-related restrictions.

“People are still, you know, visiting family or doing whatever it is that they needed to do — going to the store or whatever,” he said. “It doesn’t take long, unfortunately, to commit some of these crimes. It doesn’t take long to find a house or a car that’s left unattended and break a window, or kicking a door or open the door if it’s left open.”

One trend Ochoa felt confident attributing to the pandemic was a rise in the rate of Santa Fe County jail inmates with severe mental health issues.

Jail data shows the number of inmates decreased by 30 percent in 2020, but by December, those designated as “psych inmates” accounted for 72 percent of the population.

“I think we are seeing an increase in people with behavioral health issues and those issues intensifying,” Ochoa said.

“It’s not that the pandemic is causing people to have behavioral health issues — although in some cases it may be,” she said. “It’s that people who have existing conditions of substance abuse disorder or mental health conditions in some cases became more acute. … And sometimes, unfortunately, people with behavioral health problems are more involved in criminal behavior as well.”

(2) comments

Dan Frazier

The article says residential burglaries decreased 14 percent, but residential break-ins increased 24 percent. That seems very strange. I'm assuming that a residential burglary is when someone steals something from a home or apartment. I assume that a residential break-in is when someone breaks into a home or apartment, but nothing seems to be missing afterward. It would be helpful if an article like this explained these terms, and also terms like robbery and larceny. I am a native English speaker and I sometimes struggle to keep such terms straight. Of course many in Santa Fe are not native English speakers.

Angel Ortiz

"Of course many in Santa Fe are not native English speakers "? Please elaborate. Many of us speak multiple languages.

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