Three Taos businesses and the Taos Municipal Landfill in El Prado were burglarized and robbed this past weekend, leaving owners with thousands of dollars in costs to recoup and giving their neighbors a hard reminder of the risks of doing business in a state with the highest property crime rate in the nation.
The owner of Sagebrush Storage in Taos reported the first burglary on Sunday (Feb. 18), when he said he had noticed a hole cut into his security fence and seven storage units that had been broken into.
On Monday morning, the three other burglaries stacked up one after the other.
Around 8 a.m., Taos Municipal Landfill workers called police to report that a window had been opened on a storage shed, a security camera destroyed and $900 in cash stolen from a safe where weigh station payments are deposited.
Less than an hour later, Carl Stewart, a manager at The Boot Doctor’s near Yucca Plaza in Taos, called to say that he had opened the business to find a cash register and safe emptied, surveillance equipment tampered with and a back door pried open.
The last call came at 10 a.m. from Heads Up Music across the street. The owner and an employee said they had arrived to find their front door open and a $900 Martin guitar, a $300 handmade guitar and other merchandise missing.
Taos Police Department picked up all four cases, and officers have met with owners at each business. They will be returning on Friday (Feb. 23) to collect further evidence, including complete, itemized lists of missing items and surveillance video they hope captured a clear image of a suspect.
According to Taos Police Chief David Trujillo, law enforcement may already have the right person in custody.
On Wednesday morning (Feb. 21), Taos County Sheriff's Deputies arrested Jeremy Cozart, a former Taos Solid Waste employee, whom workers identified while reviewing surveillance footage of the burglary at the landfill.
According to Trujillo, the video shows a man in a Carhartt jacket and camouflage pants approaching the shed. When he nears a camera, he puts on a mask that covers the lower half of his face and then disables the device. Another camera picks up the action as the man removes a frame on a window using a pry bar he found outside the shed. He climbs through and eventually locates the safe, which he then opens with the pry bar and a hammer.
Trujillo said that another video recorded a week earlier at the landfill shows what appears to be the same man burglarizing the shed for the first time, but stealing nothing, Trujillo said.
One landfill worker who reviewed footage from both burglaries said there could be no doubt: Cozart was the perpetrator in both instances.
Trujillo and his officers closed the landfill case Wednesday morning (Feb. 21) following Cozart’s arrest, and while nothing has yet proved a definitive link, they have found certain similarities in the subsequent break-ins at the three other businesses burglarized this week. Specifically, in both instances the burglar apparently used a “mechanic’s” pry bar to open doors and had the know-how to disable security equipment.
When a burglary occurs at a business within their jurisdiction, Trujillo said his officers are trained to discuss additional security measures business owners can take.
“A lot of times, burglaries are opportunistic crimes,” Trujillo said.
He recommends replacing weak outer doors, removing materials that can be used to smash windows, such as rocks used to prop open doors, installing bars inside windows and posting signage to ward off prowlers.
Within his department, Trujillo said he is working to beef up his investigations team and fill two positions that recently opened.
Today, only two officers are on patrol for each shift in Taos’ historic district, where by the numbers, burglaries are more likely to occur than in other cities in the United States.
According to the most recent statistics compiled by the FBI, New Mexico recorded the highest rate of property crime in the United States in 2016. In 2014, Taos County ranked as the most burglarized county in the state.
Trujillo hopes local businesses, as well as residents, whose homes and cars are also frequently targeted, can learn how to keep themselves and their belongings safe.
In the meantime, Trujillo hopes that certain preventative measures, such as the recent installment of a mobile surveillance camera on Juan Largo Lane, will help drive down the property crime rate in Taos.