Edgewood police busted a crime ring with victims from as far away as California and “across the Southwest” due to what the police chief called the attentiveness of his officers.

Four suspects are still at large for the property crimes, said police chief Ron Crow. “These individuals we’re looking for right now are not local residents and we don’t think there’s an active threat to Edgewood from these individuals right now,” he said.

Officer David Lovato is taking the lead in the investigation, and told the story:

Lovato said crime in Edgewood “skyrocketed” in November, especially auto theft and mailbox thefts, he said. “This was way beyond the normal rate—this was an alarming rate,” Lovato said.

While investigating an auto burglary at Walmart, police got a “small snapshot” of a white car with black tires. “We didn’t know what make, what model, only it was a white car—but at least it was some kind of lead,” Lovato said. That day Edgewood had a total of three auto buglaries, he said, adding, “All of us were looking out, trying to come across this white vehicle, obviously they were causing havoc in Edgewood.”

In addition to crime fighting, Edgewood’s police officers took part this past weekend in “Shop With a Cop.”

Lovato was a passenger with a new officer, patrolling the Denny’s parking lot, when Lovato saw a car matching the description do a U-turn on N.M. 344 at Church Road. “It was kind of odd that as we were passing, it seemed it saw us and turned around,” Lovato said. The two officers followed the car.

Lovato’s partner saw the vehicle turn into the Route 66 RV Park. When the officers followed it in, the car was parked with the lights turned off. As the police pulled in, the car turned on its lights and pulled back out, but not before the police got its license plate number.

They went back to the station for Lovato’s laptop, ran the plates and discovered the car came back as not stolen. Meanwhile they headed back to the RV park, arriving about 10 minutes after they left.

They started to run license plates and VIN numbers where the white car had been parked: three vehicles plus a motor home. All four came back stolen.

Lovato knew they “had something big here.”

By now it was nearly 6 a.m., and time for the shift change—that meant twice the manpower available. Lovato called the chief.

The police got a search warrant to search the motor home. There were no people inside, Lovato said, but there was an estimated $200,000 worth of stolen items. “There wasn’t anybody inside,” Lovato said, “but on the other hand, it was full of about everything else. Electronics, cell phones, iPads, laptops, computers, scanners, jewelry, licenses, check books—so many checkbooks. You name it, it was there. They were printing and scanning their own IDs, temp tags for vehicles. There were so many [burglary] tools. It was a really big bust.”

In addition to that, police found “stuff from mailboxes—so much mail,” Lovato said, along with drug paraphernalia including “pipes, bongs and syringes.” Police filled two pickup trucks and the back of an SUV with stolen property in the “biggest bust in department history.”

Addresses and other identifiers of victims of the crimes were from California, Colorado, Arkansas, all over the Southwest. Edgewood police are working in conjunction with the Santa Fe Police Department on some vehicle thefts, he said.

Police “have a pretty good grasp on who it is,” Lovato said. The investigation in Edgewood is ongoing, and he said the department expects to issue arrest warrants soon for multiple felony charges, Lovato said.

The suspects are still at large, but Lovato said, “We have a pretty good grasp on who it is.”

The department has already started to return stolen property to some people it has identified.

“If somebody has been a victim of a crime and had items stolen, especially auto theft and mailboxes, I’ll be happy to look for those articles and items. He said the police department’s priority now is “get these people in custody and get their property back, and get some peace of mind.”

Lovato asks that anyone who wants the department to look for missing items contact him by email at dlovato@pd.edgewood-nm.gov.

“I feel pretty proud, but at the same time, I’ll be more proud when we have these guys where they belong, behind bars,” Lovato said.

“Kudos for Officer Lovato in being very mindful and attentive to his surroundings, and proactive in the community,” Crow said. “He noticed something was up, and he dug. Good job to him.”

Crow also asked that residents contact police if they suspect a crime, citing a recent example of a post on Facebook that said someone had been held up at gunpoint at the ATM behind Denny’s—but no call to report the alleged crime was made to the police department. “We encourage people to contact us when the need arises, instead of posting on social media.”