SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – When the Dog Head Fire ripped through the Manzano Mountains last year, Rep. Matthew McQueen watched almost all of his district burn.
People were forced to evacuate their homes for days. That’s when looters struck.
Now, Rep. McQueen, D-Galisteo, has introduced a bill that would enhance the punishments of certain crimes, mostly property crimes, when they’re committed in an evacuation zone.
He’s targeting some of the lowest of criminals — the ones who prey on people when they’re most vulnerable.
“There’s two-fold motivation for the bill, one is to protect property. That we don’t want people robbing houses when people aren’t there,” Rep. McQueen said. “But also it’s really to protect human life and landowners. Because we want landowners to feel secure enough to leave their property when there’s a danger.”
McQueen’s bill, if signed into law, would take crimes like burglary, larceny and criminal trespassing during an evacuation, and make the corresponding punishments even tougher.
Rather than a misdemeanor, criminal trespassing would become a fourth degree felony. Aggravated burglary would go from a second degree felony to a first degree felony.
During the Dog Head Fire last summer, police and deputies found several suspicious people with no ties to the Chilili area wandering around near evacuated homes. But with no proof they had committed any crimes, the people were let go.
By order of the governor, the National Guard was called in to help keep looters out of the evacuation area.
Law enforcement never confirmed any looting during the fire, but residents told KRQE News 13 some neighbors said they were victimized.