In the Triangle District, everyone is on the same side of the tracks.
Ghetto and gentrification (or at least what passes for each in Santa Fe) are all in the same neighborhood, bounded by Cerrillos Road to the north, St. Michael’s Drive to the west and south, and the Rail Runner tracks to the east.
Instead of wrong or right sides of the tracks, culture and class in the Triangle District are bisected by Second Street.
Businesses on Second and to its east signal the gentrification of the area: a kettle bell workout parlor, miniature sculpture gardens, bakeries and bike repair shops. To the west, there’s subsidized housing, a taco truck and a community center, as well as drug deals and violent crime scenes.
But property crime doesn’t observe the boundaries.
In recent weeks, the daily newspapers have reported extensively on the statistical spike in property crime, as provided by Santa Fe Police Department crime analysts: a 39 percent jump in overall burglaries, including a 105 percent jump in residential burglaries between April and June.
“Area 6,” which includes the Triangle District, reported 73 burglaries in that time period, a 30 percent increase. The law enforcement community blames the rise on an increase in gang activity, combined with the economic slump. But, in the end, numbers are numbers, devoid of context, nuance and community dynamics.
“It definitely could be framed as a culture clash,” City Councilor Rosemary Romero, who lives in and represents the Triangle District, tells SFR. “…We’re seeing crime spread.”
Last week a burglary hit close to home for Romero: Her neighbor, firefighter David England, had a break-in. The burglars pried open his gun safe and stole two firearms.
“When someone’s gun disappears, you know there are more guns in the community and I find that frightening,” Romero says. “As a neighborhood we need to learn that there are things we can do to alleviate some of the crime…We’ve talked about community policing and other efforts, but unless people really embrace it, it doesn’t happen.”
When Le Flip, a creperie on the Cerrillos end of Second Street, was broken into on July 21, the intruders trashed the restaurant, ate homemade cookies and drank baby formula, but only stole $60.
“We’re trying to run a small business. We work all day, we have no employees and [these burglars] just come in and do that,” owner Josh Drummond tells SFR. “The only time I see police in this neighborhood is when they’re eating at Ramblin’ Café. If they realize there’s a problem, why aren’t they here?”
Le Flip shares a building with Alfanoose Café, a Middle Eastern restaurant owned by Palestinian immigrant Sami Jaber. Jaber describes his year-and-a-half-old café as the neighborhood’s night-light, staying open sometimes as late as 4 am. The night Alfanoose was robbed was an anomaly; he’d closed at 11:30 pm.
The café was trashed, an Apple laptop, Sony Playstation, hookah and $10 stolen (the Playstation, Jaber says, was mysteriously returned the next day). Jaber says he will be installing cameras and an alarm system.
“I was raised in a tough area in Ramallah, so nothing scares me,” he says. “I will stay here and face the problems…I never, ever run away.”
According to Lt. Tom Wiggins, who oversees investigations, SFPD has identified several juveniles who may have been behind the string of robberies.
“I think the attraction is apparent,” Wiggins says. “‘Let’s make a little burglary crew. We can go until we get busted, make all kinds of money and, when we do get busted, so what? We’ll get probation.’ And that’s pretty accurate.”
But the area’s crime is not just limited to property. On June 13, Santa Fe police officers arrested a suspect who allegedly robbed several patrons outside Second Street Brewery, first with a knife, then later by gunpoint. The man, Kerry Mitchell, lived around the block on Espinacitas Street.
In just the last three months, burglars broke into six vehicles in the Brewery’s parking lot, stealing everything from car stereos to a bag of cosmetics.
Owner and brewmaster Rod Tweet is concerned that if the press over-hypes the crime factor, it could hurt business. He maintains the neighborhood is the safest he’s seen it.
“It’s improved a lot from what it was 15 years ago,” Tweet says. “It keeps moving along in a good direction; it’s just that it’s not moving super fast. The subsidized housing [behind the brewery] has always had a crime problem, so there’s nothing new or shocking about that.”
What is new, however, is the Triangle District Resource Center, which opened last October with the help of a $40,000 one-time community development grant administered by the city (the grant runs out in October and a new funding source has yet to be identified). The center serves approximately 135 community members each week with everything from tutoring to community organizing, according to Director Soledad Santiago.
“I think our function is to provide a safe space where kids and civil society can form some kind of a bond,” Santiago says.
Santiago says the center hasn’t been broken into, but she sees inadequacies in the neighborhood’s lighting and police presence.
“This has been a largely abandoned and disenfranchised area, and I think the city needs to own that,” Soledad says.
For her part, Councilor Romero would like to see police officers dedicated to the area. New federal funding will eventually provide the city with eight new officers, although SFPD Chief Aric Wheeler tells SFR they won’t hit the streets for at least another year.
In the meantime, some area businesses are considering hiring private security. Associated Security Industries has been collecting contracts, including one at Second Street Studios, one of hubs of the Second Street art community, as well as the Sangre de Cristo Apartments, which is in the center of the Hopewell/Mann Street area.
ASI owner Micah Johnson tells SFR he envisions a consortium of private citizens, property managers and small businesses hiring his company to establish a patrol program for the entire neighborhood.
“With larger properties, [private patrol security] can be painfully expensive because of the gas and the driving time,” Johnson says. “When you start to have an umbrella between private communities, like San Mateo and commercial properties like Second Street Studios, everybody is getting good service because we don’t have to drive so far between them.”
Triangle District Resource Center Co-Director Roy Wroth says that having a positive security presence in the community is important.
“If they had [guards] with machine guns, Brazil-style, I would be protesting,” Wroth says. “But I don’t think we’re at that scale right now.“
Still, Wroth says police would be preferable. And, indeed, SFPD beefed up its patrols in the Second Street area over the July 31 weekend (some even ate at Le Flip).
But police aren’t opposed to the idea of private security or community policing in the area—it would free up resources.
“If we’re going to try to knock down burglary, that means we don’t have the resources to attack domestic violence,” Wiggins says. “Everybody’s freaking out over the burglaries and, meanwhile, back in the corner is this smoldering bomb ticking away.”