Law Enforcement Officials Discuss Crime and Safety in Doña Ana County

Oct 10, 2019

There are more than 120 known gang groups in Doña Ana County, according to Las Cruces Deputy Police Chief Miguel Dominguez.

He said some gangs have a handful of members while others have hundreds. Dominguez said the overwhelming majority of organized crime is drug-related.

“Most of our property crime has a gang nexus–or a drug nexus and everybody’s in on that pie. We’re seeing that through our intel meetings that we hear things from the sheriff’s department or we hear things from the Anthony, Sunland Park, our federal partners. They all are taking part in this organization that is the drug problem that is plaguing the community right now. That’s what’s going on.”

Youth gangs and opioid overdoses are prevalent in Anthony, according to the city’s Police Chief Vanessa Lara.

We have a lot of overdoses in the city limits. I want to say within the past three months we’ve administered five Narcans which essentially saved five people’s lives. So, that’s what we see but we’ve also seen an increase in child abuse cases and a lot of domestic violence. So, as it relates to drugs," Lara said.

Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart, left, speaks at a law enforcement panel along with Las Cruces Deputy Police Chief Miguel Dominguez, Anthony Police Chief Vanessa Lara and Chief Deputy District Attorney Gerald Byers. Indivisible Las Cruces hosted the discussion on crime and public safety in the Roadrunner Room of the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library on Oct. 8, 2019.
Credit Michael Hernandez

Drugs and gangs are not the only problems for these law enforcement officials.  Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart said domestic violence is a “significant” problem in the county.

“My people go out every shift, every 10 hours and I will say that the majority if not all of their day is consumed by household violence of one form or another," Stewart said. "It’s either on a family member, on a child, even to the extent of animal abuse and we don’t respond on those but I’m aware of them. So, I don’t know that this is an increasing problem in Doña Ana but it’s a significant problem and I just don’t think we can really… we have to remind ourselves of that–that's an enormous problem."

Stewart added there’s a need for a Crisis Triage Center to deal with mental health emergencies.

“It’s time to look into why it hasn’t been and get it open and that in turn will bring in providers. We as a state and as a southern part of the state need providers. We need mental health assistance from psychologists and psychiatrists. I think if we open that we’re going to get a larger interest from those type of providers to want to assist us," Stewart said.

Las Cruces Deputy Police Chief Miguel Dominguez agreed that the triage center is an important need in the region.

“It would be a huge plus to have that triage center here to assist us because it is taking a significant amount of time for our officers who are on the street. We’re actually putting more officers designated to crisis intervention. We need it but it would be nice to have a facility that would be able to treat folks that are in crisis," Dominguez said.

At $49 million, public safety spending makes up just over half of the Las Cruces 2020 general fund budget. State and federal funding makes up about 2 percent of the police department’s $28 million budget–the majority comes from gross receipts taxes, property taxes and other fees and revenues.

But Dominguez said preventing crime isn’t just about the budget for law enforcement. 

"We get a lot of questions like this when people are moving into town–‘What areas of town do I avoid? Where do I not move?’ That kind of thing. And we tell them, you know, all of the city is safe. All of the city can be dangerous as well," Dominguez said. "Lock your doors, just to the sheriff’s point. Be vigilant. Lock your doors. Know your neighbors. Report. You see suspicious activity, report it.”