FBI hopes 'coffee with a cop' leads to more tips, applicants

Federal agents descended on a Starbucks in Santa Fe this week -- but they weren't just there for a latte


By Jessica Pollard
The Santa Fe New Mexican

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Suit-clad analysts and special agents with the FBI's Albuquerque field office chatted Thursday with customers at Starbucks on St. Michael's Drive, fielding questions about crime and reminding them the agency has a Santa Fe office.

It's the bureau's third stop as part of a community outreach effort dubbed "Coffee with a Cop, FBI Edition," after two similar events in Albuquerque.

Administrators hope the events will encourage people to call and report more crimes to the FBI and alert people about the agency's local office.

While the FBI handles federal law issues including fraud, government corruption, art theft and organized crime, agents at Thursday's event urged the public to call the FBI regardless of whether their concern relates to federal matters.

"If it isn't something that falls in our jurisdiction, you have our 100 percent guarantee we'll push it in the direction where we'll get someone to look into it," said Albuquerque Field Office Special Agent in Charge Raul Bujanda.

Bujanda said people can report tips at fbi.gov or by calling 800-225-5324.

"We think if the community knows us better, they'll talk to us more and maybe we can solve more crimes," FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said Thursday. "And in a more selfish way, maybe we can get people to apply for jobs."

That was a win for 17-year-old Los Alamos High School student Luke Gonzales, who drove to Thursday's event. Gonzales said his cousin works for the FBI in another state and learning about the job has him interested in entering the field.

"My cousin was telling me all of the romantic parts about it," he said. "But I got to learn some of the majors you [can] take or how to advance quicker in ranks."

FBI employees say attendees approached them Thursday with job inquiries but also questions about local crime issues, including catalytic converter thefts, which Santa Fe police officials said in late 2021 were on the rise.

The relaxed event, complete with free pastries, took place down the road from the site of an armed bank robbery at Wells Fargo last week. FBI agents on March 16 arrested Bobby Garcia on federal charges related to the crime, which prompted a car chase down St. Francis Drive.

Garcia, still in custody, appeared Thursday in federal court in New Mexico.

The proximity of the two events was a coincidence, Bujanda said.

He said the FBI has been trying to reach more populated, higher crime areas with the recent gatherings.

"We've seen kind of an uptick in people applying," he said of the effect the outreach has had on FBI job applicants.

Bujanda said FBI applicants in New Mexico don't necessarily get hired for jobs in the area, given it's a national agency. While Thursday's event wasn't aimed at recruiting, Bujanda said, the FBI did bring flyers about careers advertising the fbijobs.gov website.

Asked about the trends of Santa Fe's crime statistics, Bujanda said he hadn't "looked at the numbers" but that larger population centers were bearing the brunt of more crimes.

"We're seeing a lot of armed robberies of different businesses," he said. "We're doing everything we possibly can on our end to put those folks in the federal system. We all know that sometimes when they enter the state system, they don't necessarily stay there."

Because the FBI handles federal crimes, the agency is also charged with law enforcement on many Native American reservations. In New Mexico, the FBI sometimes is involved in Native American missing person cases as well.

New Mexico has the highest rate of missing Indigenous women in the country, according to the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, and in February state lawmakers passed two bills aimed at bridging gaps in investigations caused by jurisdiction issues between agencies.

Bujanda said New Mexicans can expect "a big improvement" in how those cases are handled and that the FBI is likely to be more involved in tracking missing people in coming months.

"If we can assist with some of that piece, we're going to try," he said.

(c)2022 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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