Las Animas Crime
(As it applies to the Santa Fe Trail Ranch)
By Joyce Wolff

Las Animas County is the largest county in Colorado and the third largest in the United States, an interesting fact we frequently pass on to visitors.  In the late 1980s, as southern Colorado became increasingly attractive to development, it became more and more difficult for the relatively small Sheriff's Department to adequately provide law enforcement to such a wide area.

To alleviate some of the problem, Jim Casias, now the Las Animas County Sheriff, began looking into a Crime Prevention Program already adopted by other counties in the state - a program geared to
Sheriff's Captain Jim Casias
Las Animas County Sheriff Jim Casias
provide a link between communities and local law enforcement.  In order to forge that link, officers needed to develop better public relations to educate a public not always accustomed to "more friendly" law enforcement.  If citizens could be educated and encouraged to help protect themselves, they in turn would be easier for law enforcement to protect: a positive Catch 22.

Sheriff Casias has spoken to the Emergency Services Committee and Area Leaders several times through the past few years.  He explains that a major law enforcement problem in this County is the broad area served by the Sheriff's Department and the lack of sufficient manpower to cover this area to the satisfaction of residents.  Many of these residents have recently come from urban environs and are not accustomed to rural law enforcement.  State Patrol Officers can help when they are nearby, but they are, primarily, only within the I-25 corridor.  City police officers can respond outside the city limits only if they are given permission.

Emergency number 911 works well in the city.  An Officer can be on the scene quickly.  But when a Sheriff's Deputy is on a call in one corner of the county and receives a dispatch for another, it will take him considerably longer to arrive than the city policeman traveling blocks instead of miles.  The time delays frustrate the caller who is probably anxious or frightened, and frustrates the Deputy who simply cannot get there any faster.  When the Deputy does arrive, they are frequently asked, "What took you so long?"

There is a map of the Santa Fe Trail Ranch at the Sheriff's Department, but our ranch along with other developments are building up so rapidly it's hard for the Sheriff's Department to keep up.  Sheriff's deputies frequently spend personal time familiarizing themselves with developing areas.  However, Deputies can only enter private property when they suspect a DUI or when they are summoned.

Fortunately we have a Neghborhood Watch Program in place, which puts us ahead of most other areas.  The Ranch is divided into Areas with Leaders and Assistant Leaders who keep track of addresses, telephone numbers, and information useful in emergencies.  In an emergency and at the direction of law enforcement or an Incident Commander, Area Leaders activate telephone communication within the area.  We understand that the Sheriff has used us as a positive example in the County.  In fact ,the Emergency Services Committee considers Jim Casias a good friend who has been helpful and cooperative.

A Neighborhood Watch is not being nosey.  It simply means having knowledge about your neighbors that might prevent or solve a crime.  A Neighborhood Watch or Crime Prevention Program is only as effective as participants make it.  You can help by updating your Area Leaders with new or changing information.  Advising your neighbors and Area Leaders when you will be away from home is helpful.  Our remoteness makes it easier for vandalism and break-in, but if your neighbors are aware of normal habits, something out of the ordinary will create suspicion.

In some cases residents do not want to participate in a Neighborhood Watch.  Perhaps they feel it an invasion of privacy.  The reason doesn't matter.  We need to be watchful on their behalf but honor their wishes.  Individuals have been known to change their attitude and become appreciative and cooperative when the Neighborhood Watch comes to their aid in some way.  We live a relatively isolated life and may need to depend on our neighbors more than city folk.

Keep track of your contractors' vehicles, including license plates.  Remind them of speed limits.  Know when they plan to be on your building site.  Tell your Area Leader who is authorized to be on your property.

When placing an emergency call, be sure to give adequate information to find the proper location before you hang up.  Complete information should also be provided to your automated security system.  In this area of plentiful wildlife and beautiful scenery, there could easily be several Turkey Trails or Spanish Peaks Lanes.  The Dispatcher needs a development name or other bit of unique information that identifies the correct location.  Provide your Area Leader with a contact.  Law enforcement is not authorized to provide services other than law enforcement or crime detection.  The Sheriff once described a home that suffered damage from rain coming in a window broken by a burglar, but officers had no contact to notify of the problem.

Consider your possessions that are subject to theft.  Can you provide serial numbers for prime theft items like TVs, computers, or guns?  Without complete information the task of recovering your stolen items is made more difficult.  Only about 40% of stolen goods are recovered, primarily because property owners cannot provide enough information to properly identify it.  Sheriff Casias suggests recording serial numbers, taking pictures or videotape with narrative and putting this record in a secure place.  Your home owner's insurance agency would be a good place.  Items with no serial numbers can be engraved with some unique pattern that can be used as positive identification.  Pawnshops are required to provide periodic lists of merchandise to law enforcement, but if you can't prove the item is yours it can be a dead end.  If your stolen article is not sold to a pawnshop, there is no record.  Tracking stolen goods at an interstate level presents another level of difficulty.

A common problem that faces the Emergency Services Committee is learning well after the fact that something is amiss.  They hear all too often of problems that should have been reported immediately.  Time is of the essence in reporting a crime or suspected crime.  Please contact your Area Leader or Assistant immediately with a problem and 911 in an emergency.  Use common sense in dealing with a perceived problem.  Don't be a hero.  Don't confront someone if you are uncomfortable doing that.  A simple tactic is to ask a stranger if they need help or directions.  If you are suspicious try to get a license plate number or other useful information.  Then report it IMMEDIATELY.

Areas hold neighborhood meetings, usually yearly, to discuss problems.  Attend these meetings!  Don't be left out.  Emergency Services Committee meetings are posted on the Website and visitors are always welcome.