Taking the temperature on burglaries in Taos


Tracy Tapia, manager of Zeke's Auto Supply in Taos, began selling car parts behind a counter in his dad's shop 26 years ago. Their business grew quickly, and as a largely cash-based operation with an increasing supply of expensive merchandise to meet a growing demand, Tapia and his father, Zeke, knew that a break-in was always a possibility.

It didn't take long before the first one. Some time passed and then there was a second. They took what precautions they could - installing a security system, providing a closing protocol for employees, buying a safe. For some years, they believed their business had become a less attractive target.

But the shop's alarm system now blares at odd hours of the night - and far more than it once did, Tapia said during a recent interview. "It seems like it happens a few times a year now," he said.

Just a few blocks south of Zeke's, Jeremy Torres, 20, owner of Vape Bros Lounge, has also noticed an increase in break-ins along Reed Street. Torres started his business with high hopes of success when he turned 18, and for a couple of years, he found it. But in recent months, his shop has been plagued by a rash of burglaries that has cost him thousands of dollars. "It's basically ruining my small business," Torres said, noting that the break-ins began just as the warm weather set in.

His observation aligns with both national and local statistics that show a positive correlation between rising temperatures and crime rates.

According to a 2014 report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, an arm of the Department of Justice, a burglary in the United States during the summer is about 11 percent more likely than during other times of the year. In Taos, the likelihood is higher, at about 15 percent, with 41 of a total 136 burglaries taking place between June and August of last year. New Mexico ranked as the second most-burglarized state in 2015, just behind Mississippi, according to a report from the FBI. The year before that, Taos topped the list as the most burglarized county in New Mexico.

Lt. David Maggio, interim police chief with the Taos Police Department, said that the overall increase in burglaries, as well as a notable summertime spike, are trends that his department has tracked throughout his 20 years on the force. "In the summer, burglaries pick up because people are out of the house more," he said. "People tend to leave more stuff in their cars during the summer, so our burglaries there have gone up as well."

Car burglaries accounted for 40 percent of the burglaries last year - behind residential burglaries, at 35 percent, topping commercial burglaries, which had the lowest share, at 25 percent.

Maggio said the increase in property crime may be due to more people leaving windows open to cool their homes and cars, more people traveling for summer vacations and an overall lack of understanding of how burglaries happen. "It's always a good idea to let someone know if you're leaving town," Maggio said. "Neighborhood watches can be very effective, and obviously, lock your doors and close your windows if you leave the house."

Property crimes are also among the most common calls his officers respond to throughout other seasons of the year. Alarm systems that go off during the night and calls from residents who return to a parked car or homes to discover their windows broken and their valuables missing also consume a great deal of hours and manpower at the already thinly staffed department. There is another question to be answered: What accounts for an overall rise in the number of property crimes each year?

Maggio cites rampant drug addiction as one possible reason property crimes have gone up. Another possibility is the increasing number of short-term rentals in Taos. A burglar that stakes out a home and knows it to be vacant during the slow tourist seasons of the year will be far more likely to target that home as opposed to one that is occupied year-round, Maggio said.

As for locals like Tapia and Torres, the struggle to keep their businesses afloat while suffering frequent financial losses due to burglaries is more than theoretical. Both said that, while the police are quick to respond when an alarm goes off - usually within minutes - the follow-up on actual investigations is less than ideal.

"I lost about $10,000 during one of the break-ins," Torres said. "Police have recovered evidence, but the investigation is always ongoing. It just gets tied up in the court system."

Back to back, month after month, Torres' business, which he started with money he saved during high school, has been hit with burglaries. He hopes that, before the summer's out, his doors will still be open.