Santa Fe police set up surveillance units in ‘potential trouble spots’

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Santa Fe police are putting a newly acquired mobile surveillance unit to the test to monitor a residential block where officers say a recent shootout occurred between neighbors who claim allegiance to rival motorcycle gangs.

The new video camera units, which police have been using for weeks, have been set up at public events, such as the downtown Spanish Market, to help officers monitor large crowds. But the placement of such a device in the driveway of a home in a south-central neighborhood surrounded by parks raises questions about whether police can strike a difficult balance of protecting residents’ privacy while using the surveillance equipment to keep them safe.

Four fish-eye camera lenses, erected atop a long pole on a mobile trailer, look down on a block of Alamosa Drive. There are also lights and a speaker on the device. Someone at the home where the unit is placed declined to comment Saturday, as children rode bicycles around the block and nearby residents held a celebration in their yard.

Greg Gurulé, a spokesman for the city police department, said in an email that the camera unit “runs 24 hours a day outside the home where we had our biker gun-play a week or so ago.” Police have placed a couple of the camera units in “potential trouble spots” of the city, he said, and video is downloaded from them every 24 hours.

Another camera unit was set up Saturday in Franklin E. Miles Park on Camino Carlos Rey.

City Councilor Mike Harris, who represents the district where police say the July 29 shootout occurred between members of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club and Vagos Motorcycle Club, on Saturday said he “would not like to have it across the street from me.” But he might think differently if a shooting occurred on his block, Harris said.

He has confidence that the police department has set up the surveillance unit to “monitor the situation and make sure things don’t escalate because it seems like these groups tend to escalate,” he said.

A police report says David Andrew Cordova, 54, and David Ray Cordova, 29, a father and son who live just blocks away, on Camino del Gusto, fired more than 20 rounds from a pickup at a house in the 2900 block of Alamosa Drive. The elder Cordova, who was treated at the hospital for a gunshot wound to the arm, told investigators that he and his son shot at the Alamosa Drive home because people there had shot at them.

The Cordovas remain in the Santa Fe County jail. They are charged with two felonies each of shooting at a dwelling or occupied building and shooting from a motor vehicle. They have entered no pleas to the charges.

Santa Fe police Capt. Robert Vasquez said last week that investigators have confirmed that the elder Cordova is a Vagos member and that a Bandidos member lives in the house on Alamosa Drive where the Cordovas fired their weapons.

Vasquez declined to identify the owner of the Alamosa Drive home because, he said, “if the opposing group does not know the victim’s name, then we would be giving him away.”

The New Mexican has confirmed the name of the homeowner but is not releasing it.

A man who identified himself as the homeowner of the Alamosa Drive residence on Saturday afternoon declined to comment, except to say that he’s frustrated that media scrutiny of the incident has been driven by a police narrative that has his family worried.

The U.S. Department of Justice says the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, which originated in Texas in the mid-1960s, has at least 2,000 active members in 93 chapters around the country, including New Mexico. Bandidos members were involved in the shootings at a Waco, Texas, restaurant in May 2015 that killed nine people.

The Vagos is a California-based motorcycle gang that started in the 1960s and has several hundred members scattered across 20 chapters in California, Nevada, Oregon, Hawaii and Mexico.

Concerns about a possible escalation in tensions between the rival biker gangs are what led local police to step up surveillance in the neighborhood where they say the shootout occurred.

Ron Andermann, 69, was out in his yard on Avenida de las Campanas on Saturday afternoon. His home, where he’s lived for nearly three decades, is adjacent to the residence where the cameras are installed.

Andermann named drug use in a nearby park as one problem in the neighborhood. But he said he had never seen an incident like the July 29 shootout, as well as a Santa Fe police standoff with a man several days earlier.

“We’ve had problems but not problems like this before,” he said.

Andermann said he saw police set up the surveillance unit just after the shooting. Officers didn’t explain the purpose of the camera unit to neighbors or say how long it would remain in the driveway.

“I don’t really know if they’re watching everything,” he said.

It was unclear over the weekend how much the cameras cost city taxpayers or how successful they’ve been as a surveillance tool.

“It would be hard to quantify how well the cameras are working, since they’ve only been deployed a few weeks,” Gurulé said.

The two city councilors who represent District 4, where the new units are posted, said they didn’t know much about the shootout other than what’s been published in the newspaper.

Asked to comment on the camera units Saturday, City Councilor Ron Trujillo, who has his eyes on the mayor’s seat, said, “I don’t know anything about them.”

“Now that you’ve informed me of this, I will definitely contact my chief,” he said, referring to Santa Fe police Chief Patrick Gallagher.

Trujillo said no constituents have contacted him about the cameras.

Harris said these are the types of tools that “understaffed” police departments must use to be effective.

The city recently approved funding for the police department to fill 19 vacancies.

Harris understands any concerns residents may have about “Big Brother” constantly watching their homes, he said, but he trusts police. “We have a professional police department, and I’m willing to let them do their job.”

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