ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - While businesses are looking to cash-in during Balloon Fiesta, criminals are, too, but police are watching and now they have a new trick up their sleeves to track crooks.
The Albuquerque Police Department says this year they’re baiting popular balloon items and patrol numbers are increasing for Fiesta.
For 15 years, Albuquerque police officer Simon Drobik has been patrolling during Balloon Fiesta. On Saturday, he was one of the many officers on watch, spotting something that’s remained constant through all of the years: An opportunity for balloonists and Fiesta-goers to become victims of crime.
“Lots of people from out of town right now, so they do have all of their property with them inside their car,” said Drobik. “We've had people steal balloon property in the past.”
Hoping to prevent that, officers have stepped up patrols in and around Balloon Fiesta Park, particularly at the hotels where people are staying.
Officers spent Saturday reaching out, even going inside hotels to speak with managers about all the open ballooning gear. Most hotels are booked to capacity, and so far, managers have not seen problems.
Police say if there is any theft this year, they hope to catch the culprits red-handed.
“We also have our bait cars in place, along with bait trailers and actually bait balloons,” said Drobik.
Police say pieces of ballooning equipment including gondolas, trailers and balloons have all been tagged with tracking gear.
“If somebody steals that property, we will be able to track them down and arrest them,” said Drobik.
Some balloonists say the police presence has helped a lot. Scott Wooge has been going to the event for the last 20 years. He says over the last five, problems have dropped drastically.
“The presence in the last five years ... we've had a few break-ins, but stealing of balloon equipment has gone way down,” said Wooge.
Police are hoping everyone can help it stay that way. Drobik said tourists shouldn't leave their cars unattended with valuable items inside.
Alongside police, baited ballooning gear and cars, up to 160 police officers, firefighters and federal agents are patrolling Balloon Fiesta Park at any given time during the event. Police say the increased patrols will continue through the entire Balloon Fiesta. They encourage anyone who sees suspicious activity or has any minor problem to report it to officers.
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