On a recent Friday afternoon, Santa Fe Police Department Officer Jeff Worth spots two teenage boys, both wearing hoodies, nervously looking around as they walk outside the Target on Zafarano Drive. Worth is working his beat plainclothes today, and his vehicle is unmarked. The two boys don’t know he’s watching them.
Worth says he looks for unusual behavior patterns and clothing. He notes that wearing a hoody isn’t unusual in cold weather. But one of the two boys is carrying a red shopping basket, possibly from Target. The boys cross into the Wells Fargo parking lot off Rodeo Road.
“Technically, they just committed a larceny,” Worth says, screeching his vehicle out of the parking lot.
SFR recently spent two afternoons with Worth, whose work is part of a push to reduce residential burglaries in Santa Fe. The six-month effort, dubbed Operation Full Court Press, puts more manpower and resources into preventing burglary. Since it began in June, residential burglaries have declined from an average of 82 per month in the first half of 2012 to 51 in the second half of the year. Police Chief Raymond Rael testified to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee last week that the six-month pilot operation has been a success and will continue through this year.
Yet SFR’s time with Worth showed that the burglary problem remains complex.
When SFR was with him, Worth targeted commercial property crimes in southern Santa Fe as a means of preempting the burglary problem. His theory: Rather than just chasing crime, it’s also important to target the criminals.
The light turns red as the boys walk out of sight, across Rodeo Road. Worth, whose unmarked vehicle has no sirens, is visibly irritated. He catches up to the boys in the JC Penney parking lot, jumps out with his badge in hand and indentifies himself as a police officer.
He later recalls, accurately, that the boys have “that deer-in-headlights look.” There’s a momentary stare-down, and then one of them tosses a backpack. An open bag of cheddar and sour-cream Ruffles potato chips becomes airborne. The boys bolt into JC Penney. Worth shouts, tossing his two-way radio at one of them—“to get their attention,” he says, and free his hand so he can grab his gun if necessary. (He worries that even kids might be carrying firearms.) The radio lands on the cement; later, the impact will keep him from being able to turn down the volume. Worth calls in backup and races his vehicle toward the rear of the store.
Worth, 54, is a big man, but he moves surprisingly swiftly through the store’s clothing section. Two women point him in the direction of the boys. He and a detective corner them in the walkway of the mall and make the arrest. Back at the police station, Worth explains that the boys confessed. Inside the backpack: food stolen from a nearby grocery store and a bottle of Malibu Caribbean Rum.
“I did some shoplifting when I was a minor,” Worth, a blond California native who constantly complains of the cold, tells SFR. “But I won’t let them know [that] it’s not terrible.”
One of the boys has a record; the interview screen shows him throwing fake punches. Worth says the boys will be charged with possession of stolen property, shoplifting and evading arrest; they will later end up appearing before a juvenile probation officer.
More importantly, though, the police find text messages from one boy to a friend discussing “jacking” duffle bags, gloves and beanies—possibly for a burglary.
Worth and the patrol officer spend at least an hour at SFPD headquarters, interviewing the boys and logging evidence. In his 13 years as an SFPD officer, Worth says that paperwork—complaints, evidence sheets and other administrative tasks—has piled up, taking officers off the streets.
“This is the part you can’t help,” he says.
Worth shows SFR a bulletin board with the mug shots of three separate burglary teams, all of whose members reportedly have drug problems. “Drugs are constantly connected” to property crimes, he says.
Rael and Worth both say that as Santa Fe’s population has swelled, department staffing levels haven’t kept up.
“The base population is about 70-some thousand,” Rael tells SFR, “but that also doesn’t take into account that it’s a tourist city.”
When he’s not at the station, Worth makes the rounds on Santa Fe’s south side. He stops by a store that sells high-end products, where a “professional thief” has stolen $1,000 worth of goods from right under employees’ noses several times since summer. He visits an antique shop that experienced shoplifting. Worth tells the owner that the little stuff—stealing a clothing item from her store—leads to “big stuff.”
“My house was robbed three times,” she replies.
Worth scrutinizes the world with a cop’s eyes. On a Friday afternoon, he drives up to an adobe wall that seperates a Walmart parking lot from a low-income apartment complex.
“Let’s see if they set up any climbs,” he says. Sure enough, a shopping cart is tipped against the wall—an escape route for thieves, Worth suspects. That Saturday, he returns to meet his partner, who has spotted a red pickup truck whose toolbox, attached to the bed, is open—and mostly empty.
“Good ops, dude!” Worth says to his partner.
A database check reveals that the truck is stolen. While Worth and his partner wait for a tow truck, several residents of the apartment complex use the shopping cart as a shortcut to and from Walmart. At one point, a woman with two girls asks Worth about the shopping cart. He doesn’t pay them much attention, and they use it to cross the wall. An employee later comes out and says the woman had stolen razor blades.
“They used our little thief catwalk,” Worth says to his partner.
Worth and I inspect the snow patterns to determine if the truck was there the previous day, when he showed me the shopping cart. We conclude that it must have, but we can’t be certain. I tell him that it’s strange how, even after 24 hours, memory can escape us. I realize it must be difficult for a cop whose job—and life—depends on constantly storing small observations.
In my last hour with Worth, on Saturday evening, darkness begins to envelop a Motel 6 parking lot near a burglary hotspot. Worth spots a beat-up white Chrysler slowly circling the building. A young woman gets out of the car, and someone from the second-floor balcony tosses her a purse. Worth calls for backup as he approaches the woman, asking her why she was driving around the parking lot. At first, he airs a tough-cop demeanor, asking why she doesn’t have a driver’s license and what she’s up to. Eventually, she confesses to having pot—a small baggy of it. Then he goes easy.
“I’m not going to put you in jail because you were honest,” he says. He and the two patrol officers issue a citation instead.
But even the occasional leniency doesn’t necessarily make Worth a popular figure. Earlier that day, at the apartment complex next to Walmart, a man stood on a balcony, watching as Worth’s busted radio crackled police dispatches. “I’ve made numerous arrests back here,” Worth told me.
The radio prompted the man to ask repeatedly if Worth and I were cops. Worth surmised he was a lookout.
Worth says chasing crime can be distressing. “A lot of times it’s like shoveling sand back into the ocean,” he says, noting how overwhelmed the courts are.
“What the fuck are you two doing out here?” the man finally shouted.
“Looking for you!” Worth replied.