Police address downtown crime incidents

HARLINGEN — Harlingen Police Department commanders aren’t calling it a crime wave, but seven criminal incidents in the historic downtown district since July have brought additional police resources to the area.

Interim Police Chief Michael Kester told downtown merchants and city officials yesterday his department has assigned dedicated patrols to the area and that police surveillance cameras will be installed around the end of the month.

“We did encourage some patrols in the last couple of weeks and as far as I understand, there hasn’t been anything in the past couple of weeks,” Kester said.

The string of criminal incidents began in July, and while relatively minor — a couple of attempted burglaries, two vehicle break-ins, broken windows — they have created concern for downtown merchants and city officials by occurring in an area not typically known for crime.

“What we are doing on the patrol side is we are assigning a daily police officer to be here on-site,” said Miryam Anderson, deputy chief of police who commands the patrol division. “That means that this officer remains busy and unavailable for other calls so he can monitor this area specifically.

“We did have an arrest associated to your area, and we’re trying to determine if that is the one person causing all the incidents or if we’re still looking for other people,” she added. “And in another case, we had a tremendous arrest a couple of days ago of two adults and one juvenile.”

Anderson was referring to arrests made following the 4 a.m. Christmas Day burglary of Johnny’s True Value Hardware, where thieves took several guns and some ammunition.

Anderson said police are investigating to determine whether those charged in connection with the Johnny’s burglary might be linked to the incidents that have occurred in the downtown district, which is several blocks away.

“Two burglaries does not a spree make,” said Commander David Osborne, who heads the criminal investigations division. “It does not make an unsafe place and we don’t want our public to think downtown is unsafe.”

A downtown merchant said yesterday attempts were made to jimmy the front doors of Twinkets and Friends and the Salvation Army on Jackson Street, but none of the locks was forced open.

Like Anderson, Osborne also thinks there may be a link to the downtown incidents and the Johnny’s burglary, which he described yesterday in some detail.

“The alarms went off, and patrol was Johnny-on-the-spot,” Osborne said. “They rolled up, guys were running, they were chasing them, they caught one of them, two of them ran through a house. They chased through the house, went upstairs, went out the back window. It was like a Hollywood chase, right?

“You’ve got to be really careful when you run through houses like that … but it’s pretty intense,” he added

Osborne said one person was arrested near Johnny’s and one of the two suspects who were chased through the house was apprehended later.

“We arrested a second person and the third one we went looking for him. He was a juvenile, so we went around looking for him and went to his house where he used to live in San Benito, went to all the family’s houses looking for this kid, and the father sounded like, ‘I know it’s you,’ so they basically turned him in,” Osborne said. “All three were taken into custody successfully.”

Charges have been filed against the two adults who allegedly broke into Johnny’s. They are Jeremy Torres, 30, of San Benito, and Eairyeis Kaine Cuellar, 18, of Harlingen. Both have been charged with burglary of a building, a state jail felony.

Osborne said police have the stolen weapons.

“The weapons were recovered, which is a very important thing,” he said. “After those guns are on the street, we don’t know what they could be used for. They could have sold them, they could have been something they used in another crime, we don’t know.”