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Otero County crime spike blamed on closed border checkpoints

Cones, cameras and sometimes even a K-9.

“Checkpoints are run by the Border Patrol, exclusively, within the 100-mile border zone,” said Johana Bencomo, a field organizer with New Mexico Comunidades En Acción y de Fe.

In New Mexico, there are six U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints. It’s where agents do immigration inspections, searching for drugs, stolen cars and people wanted by police.

“Border Patrol checkpoints like the ones we have here exist all across the U.S.-Mexico border. What makes our region even more unique, though, is that our checkpoints are beyond the metro area,” Bencomo said.

Checkpoints closed in March so that agents could help with the influx of migrants at the border. The checkpoints reopened in early August. Some officials said that having them closed meant people could drive straight through with drugs.

In Otero County, there are two checkpoints. Sheriff David Black told KOAT that his deputies made more drug-related arrests because of the closed checkpoints.

And Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin said less security in the county means more illegal activity.

“It’s hard to put your thumb directly on where we’re being impacted. We know that our narcotics traffic is going to be up,” Griffin said.

From January 2018 to July 2018, there were 43 drug arrests.

This year during the same time period, with closed checkpoints, there were 71 arrests.

“We have our concerns in regard to the checkpoints being closed ’cause the highways are traditionally areas in which there’s a lot of drug trafficking that occurs,” said Brian Peete, the chief of the Alamogordo Police Department.

The police department wasn’t able to provide any solid data on drug arrests in the area but said statistics on drug seizures in the area really only started in February when the county joined a Drug Enforcement Administration task force program.

“We’re seeing more narcotics within the area, but we’re doing everything we can to get a handle on it,” Peete said.

With all six checkpoints back up and running at full capacity, many believe having them open can only help.

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