LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - The Las Cruces community has been rocked by multiple shootings over the past several weeks, and the reason for the increase is still under investigation.
In the last six weeks, Doña Ana County had seven fatal shootings; five in Las Cruces and two in the county. Most of them have been drug related according to law enforcement officials.
“The increase in violence in las cruces and the increase in shooting incidents, we are concerned by it,” Patrick Gallagher, the Las Cruces Police chief, said. "There were five homicides in June alone. Four of the five of them were narcotics related.”
And for several months now, Border Patrol checkpoints that screen for drug trafficking along the highways have been closed due to the migrant surge. That's raised the question, does the fact the checkpoints are closed play a part in the dramatic increase?
“We’ll continue to analyze these shootings and deploy officers and investigative resources in such a manner as to, as to solve them, but more importantly to prevent them," Gallagher said.
“I think the checkpoints themselves closing is not in it of itself the issue," Kim Stewart, Doña Ana County Sheriff, said. "But I do believe there…it is sending out the message that there’s a little bit more freedom to move about…to be emboldened.”
Neither Gallagher nor Stewart believe the checkpoints being closed is the sole cause, Stewart indicating the entire border crisis likely plays a part.
“With asylum seekers coming to the border and throwing up their hands to every border patrol agent they can see, the cartel is a very active observer," Stewart said. "They’re opportunists.”
Both LCPD and the Sheriff's office are working to minimize the drug related crime, the Sheriff saying her deputies are filling in the gaps left open by the checkpoints being closed.
It is still unclear what the exact driving force behind the increase of violence is, but law enforcement agencies say they are working hard to prevent it.