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Hobbs sees rise in homicides but lower overall crime

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Fighting the odds
Police chief: 150% increase in homicides in 2023

Caleb A. Gallegos/News-Sun

Even though the Hobbs Police Department is dealing with a shortage of officers, HPD is still making strides in decreasing crimes — according to HPD Chief August Fons.

On Feb. 5, Fons gave the 2023 annual Hobbs Police Department report to the city commission members at the regularly scheduled meeting.

During the presentation Fons said Hobbs has seen a 150 percent increase in homicides in 2023.

Fons said there were four homicides in 2022, and 10 in 2023.

“Unfortunately, across the nation violent crime and property crime is up, there is no question about that,” Fons said. “I wish that I could report that Hobbs is an exception, but its not.”

Nine out of the 10 homicides have been solved, and the last is being worked, according to Fons.

“Nationally, homicide rates are cleared at about 50 percent. We have nine out of 10 solved,” Fons said. “I think that’s a remarkable solve rate.”

Fons went on to explain HPD reported a 6 percent decrease in reported crime, and a 3 percent decrease in calls for service.

Hobbs also saw:
• Homicide: 150 percent increase
• Burglary: 30 percent increase
• Auto theft: 8 percent increase
• Domestic: 6 percent increase
• Rape: 41 percent decrease
• Robbery: 6 percent decrease
• Shoplifting: 3 percent decrease
• Forgery: 38 percent decrease
• Fraud: 30 percent decrease
• Vandalism:12 percent decrease
• Shooting from a motor vehicle: 29 percent decrease

Fons went into detail, explaining statistical numbers can sometimes appear to be better, or worse, than the actual number of events.

“Numbers are relative,” Fons said when explaining the dramatic increase. “For example, a 100 percent increase or decrease, could be the difference between one or two occurrences.”

Crimes like homicide, domestic violence, and assault are “passion” based crimes, and difficult to completely stop because of the uncertainty of individuals involved, Fons explained.

To combat opportunity based crimes, like burglary, larceny and shoplifting, Fons said, with the help of community members and a heavy patrol presence, HDP can continue to make strides in decreasing crimes.

Search and seizures and use of force — two high liabilities for the HPD — have also seen substantial decreases in issues, according to the HPD report.

“Recruitment, retention, and ultimately staffing is not the only issue, but it is an important one, and an effective response to crime,” Fons said. “I wish I had a quick answer for this, but I don’t. Law enforcement is hard to recruit and retain for a number of reasons, but it is a concern to us”

According to the report, HPD currently has an operating budget of about $23 million, and are authorized 95 police officers, plus 59 support staff — Totaling 154 employees.

There are currently 22 vacancies for certified police officers in the Hobbs Police Department. Five officers are in the police academy, and two are in the application process.

Civilian staff, which aid officers in non-violent crimes, currently has 12 vacancies, and six applicants, he said.

HPD also had another crime scene technician successfully complete the National Forensic Academy at the University of Tennessee. All current CST’s have graduated from the NFA.

In addition, officers with HPD are cross-commissioned as deputies with the Lea County Sheriff’s Office, which service about 72,000 residents.

In 2023, HPD initiated mandatory first-line supervisory training for any acting supervisory positions, and re-certified all K-9 Units.

“Recruiting and retention strategy will remain a top priority,” Fons said when speaking about goals and objectives for 2024.

HPD made steps in improving the Police Department and its technology in 2023, and plans to continue in 2024, he said.

The report states, HPD will continue regular training, which include crisis de-escalation, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, and crisis management and emergency response simulation training.

In 2023, Fons and HPD upgraded HPD’s IT systems including EAGLE, body cameras, in-car technology and made necessary repairs to the police department.

HPD also reduced the annual operating budget by almost $3 million last year, through more effective budgeting, he said.

Fons then spoke about working toward the concerns voiced by the commission, and community.

HPD plans on using methods like, intelligent based policing, mental health outlets, eagle operations, more cameras and crime stamped focal areas to make an effective change toward reducing crime, he added.

District 3 Commissioner Larron Fields spoke in favor of more cameras and stamped focal areas, saying he would like to see more in his district, and thinks it would have a positive impact on his district.

Commission members voiced concerns when Fons informed them of the outstanding warrant issue HPD faces.

According to Fons, in 2023, 2,387 arrests were made, of those arrested 1,255 for failure to appear warrants.

“What that equates to is, 60 percent of the arrests made by HPD last year were failure to appear, or failure to pay warrants,” Fons said.

“It’s got to be frustrating. This interferes with y’all being able to do your job,” District 5 Commissioner Dwayne Penick said.

Fons explained, patrol officers are forced to spend a considerable amount of time processing FTA warrants.

“I thought it was a point that needed to be made. It takes up a substantial amount of our officer’s time to process each of these FTA warrants,” Fons said.

“When you turn them loose on RO (released on their own recognizance), they have no motivation to show up,” Mayor Sam Cobb said. “They figure they will get lost in the system, so it creates this mentality in people who aren’t responsible to begin with.”

Fons then informed commissioners there are currently around 2,000 active warrants in Hobbs.

According to a report ran by HPD Crime Analyst, 111 arrests were made for failure to appear last month in January.
District 1 Commissioner Finn Smith shared his thoughts: “I’m just shocked at the fact that there are 2,000 outstanding warrants, and all of last year we had 1,255. That’s a year of work, not to count.”

Fons finished the presentation by expressing the need to vote on laws related to catch and release, saying voting would be the most effective way to make a difference. He also agreed to look into methods of warrant tracking suggested by the mayor.

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