Deadly gun violence on the rise, New Mexico statistics show

December 31 – 2021 saw an increase in the number of violence in the city and county of Santa Fe.

There were 11 homicides, including two teenagers; six shots involving local law enforcement officers, four of them fatal; and the high-profile shooting death of famous cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust at Bonanza Creek Ranch, where Hollywood star and producer Alec Baldwin’s gun fired a live bullet.

A number of other volatile incidents sent bullets down to inches to add to the stats.

Last week, 19-year-old Flavio Gonzales was suspected of firing 10 shots at a man who confronted him in a Senda del Valle parking lot, court records show. A shooting in the city center on December 15 sent a man to hospital with a gunshot wound.

Many of the violent incidents involved drugs. A young woman accused of participating in a drive-by shootout in the south of the city died in October of a drug overdose she suffered in prison, Santa Fe police said.

“There have certainly been a lot of situations and instances where an aggravated battery could easily have been homicide,” said Paul Joye, Acting Santa Fe Police Chief. He stepped into the role earlier this month. this. here after Andrew Padilla’s retirement.

“We’ve seen more gun violence – it’s happening – but it’s happening everywhere,” Joye said. “It’s not just Santa Fe.”

The New Mexico Department of Health found that gun deaths increased by 55% statewide over the past decade.

Law enforcement officials stress the need for greater community support to deal with the higher rates of gun violence in the coming year.

The alleged killer in the death of Santa Fe County teenager Isaiah Herrera was also a teenager, a trend according to Sheriff Adan Mendoza that could continue without intervention.

“I think it goes back to gang activity and the drug epidemic we are facing,” he said. “If we don’t start taking this seriously and prosecuting these crimes… we’re going to see the same thing, which will be an increase in violence, an increase in homicides and violent crime.

With the rise in violence, gunfire came from the other side of the badge.

Sheriff’s office assistants have been implicated in four shootings of suspects, including three deaths.

“We have unfortunately had a few shootings involving officers over the past year, which obviously was not a good thing for the sheriff’s office or the community,” Mendoza said. “But we want to continue working with the community; we want to continue to respond in a safe manner.

Mendoza said the sheriff’s office is investing in less lethal options, such as ottoman cartridges, which are expected to arrive in early 2022, as well as simulation training in de-escalation techniques.

The city of Santa Fe recorded eight homicides in 2021, a number equal to just one in the past decade, in 2019. The city also recorded one fatal shooting involving an officer.

Six of the deaths occurred in the first half of the year, raising concerns among law enforcement officials and community members.

Joye noted that none of this year’s homicides appeared to be related. “There was nothing necessarily that would have predicted that this would happen,” he said.

January saw three deaths: Virgil Tortalita, 50; Frank Pete, 50; and Peter Gurule, 40, with three others in the months that followed.

Three of the deaths in the first six months took place at the GreenTree Inn on Cerrillos Road, which participated in a program providing housing to members of the homeless community. Each of the incidents involved a client of a local non-profit organization serving the homeless.

When asked if the police department made any changes in the second half of 2021 to tackle the homicide rate, Joye said nothing but hard work.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say the department did anything different, especially since we were able to move quickly to identify the suspects and try to get the information out and get the arrest warrants and take the people into custody. quickly before they can act again, “he said.

Limited resources

As the city has seen an increase in violent crime, the increased caseload has fallen on an understaffed police department.

As of Thursday, there were 34 vacancies in the agency out of 169 positions, a vacancy rate of more than 20 percent, Joye said.

Seven empty slots are in the Criminal Investigations Unit, which has a budget of 27. Investigations Captain Aaron Ortiz said two team members have been put on patrol to help manage the volume of calls.

Joye said the agency’s high rate of solved homicides – suspects have been named in all cases except the death of Arthur Loretto, 52, whose body was found with multiple beatings knife in a GreenTree exhibit – shows the hard work of other investigators.

“They are on call 24 hours a day,” he said. “These people have worked very hard this year.

Charges against a homicide suspect were dropped this year due to uncooperative witnesses. Lt. David Webb said it was a blow, but it allowed the department to refocus the way it handles cases.

“At first there was some frustration as to why they aren’t moving forward, and that’s because [investigators] take it so personal, “Webb said.” But I could see how we had to tackle the realm of investigation to get real evidence and articulate facts that would help us in case we had a situation where a witness chooses. not to testify or is afraid to do so. “

He noted that the changes are part of the reasons it took months to file a murder complaint against Jay Wagers, 25, accused of shooting Joseph Aiello, 39, in early October 4 in a house. . from Alamosa Drive.

Wagers, arrested later today for gunfire and attempted hijacking, was charged with first degree murder on December 16.

Mendoza said the sheriff’s office resources were also depleted.

While not struggling with such a high vacancy rate, the sheriff said, recruiting and retention has been difficult over the past two years.

The October filming of Rust at the movie ranch south of Santa Fe – which immediately captured the attention of media around the world, shocking and saddening the global film industry – also had a significant effect on its staff, added Mendoza.

An investigation into the incident, which revealed several live tours of the set and raised questions about security protocols, has been going on for months.

So far, no one has been named a suspect in the shooting that killed Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza.

“I would say that was probably the biggest challenge of the last two [of] years is about managing our resources, recruiting, retaining and keeping just about everyone healthy and on the job, ”Mendoza said.

Call for intervention

While violent crime and homicide rates have declined nationally since the 1990s, FBI data shows New Mexico rates are above national averages and have even increased since 2015.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked the state fourth in the country in 2019 for gun-related deaths for all ages, including children.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is proposing a $ 100 million investment in 2022 to hire more police officers in the state. Another possible legislation in the next session would address rising rates of violent crime, theft and lack of police retention.

Miranda Viscoli, co-chair of the New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence nonprofit, said the organization plans to ask the governor for a gun violence prevention fund.

Viscoli said more community interventions, primarily aimed at young people, are also needed to address the problem – and soon.

“The first thing I would do immediately would be to establish a violence response program here in Santa Fe, today and not tomorrow,” she said. “I think that’s what really needs to happen because unfortunately I think gun violence is going to get worse in Santa Fe.

“It’s not just the homicides,” added Viscoli. “In my opinion, we have so many more cases of gun violence than I have seen in the last few years… We have to get people out of the cycle.