Public safety is the No. 1 priority of law enforcement in Valencia County

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A government’s most fundamental responsibility is to protect its residents.

The roles of public safety officers in Valencia County is vast, from police officers to firefighters to trained emergency medical personnel. They all take their jobs seriously, wanting to make a difference in their communities.

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas Police Chief Roy Melnick has acquired millions of dollars in grants to help purchase equipment and vehicles for the department since he became chief in 2009.

As first responders in municipalities throughout the county, they are often challenged by decreasing budgets, limited resources and sometimes small staffs. But their missions are all the same: To keep their citizen’s safe.

The Los Lunas Police Department is the second largest law enforcement agency in Valencia County, only exceeded in size by the sheriff’s office. With 36 full-time police officers on duty, they are charged with protecting the largest-populated municipality in the county.

Police Chief Roy Melnick said his department is a community-oriented police force, whose mission is to build relationships within the community and identify and solve problems 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We’re more service-oriented, not just catching the criminal,” Melnick said. “We’re still about reducing crime and making sure the community is a safe place to live, work and raise our children. That’s our No. 1 duty.

“But, our secondary primary duty is public service and, if that means someone’s calling because they’ve locked themselves out of their vehicle or house, an officer will go there and assist them,” he said. “No, they’re not catching a bad guy, but it’s about assisting the community.”

Within the community-policing strategy, the LLPD has several outreach programs, such as Neighborhood Watch. The department has two full-time community policing officers, paid through a federal grant, who go out to schools and businesses to provide public safety education.

 

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: Bosque Farms Police Chief Greg Jones has retained more officers since taking on Peralta. He also has been able to recruit quality officers because of the department’s amount of training they offer.

“My cops have been trained from an educational philosophy of law enforcement,” the chief said. “It means educating the public, not going out there and writing a number of tickets. My guys are instructed if they stop someone for a minor violation, and they’re not a repeat offender, give them a warning. The reason is educating them about what they’ve done.”

Along with protecting and educating the community, Melnick said the department’s goal is to serve its citizens with an array of services and programs that will help them in their everyday lives. He said working with other law enforcement within the county is also an essential aspect of public safety within Valencia County.

“We provide not only police services to the village, we also have a SWAT team that we respond out in the county to support the sheriff’s department, and we have a regional drug task force that operates with surrounding agencies along with state and federal agencies,” Melnick said. “We also have an Internet Crimes Against Children unit, the only one in the county and one of few in the state that we’ve created with the Attorney General’s office.”

Melnick said his department has a number of programs geared toward protecting the community and the children, some of which are profiled on the department’s website at www.loslunanm.gov.

More recently, the LLPD also has signed up for Raids Online, in which citizens can log on to see where and what types of crimes are occurring in the village. Melnick said the data can help officers track crime trends, and “Report It,” a website that residents can securely store serial numbers, item descriptions, pictures and scans of receipts so that items may be more easily identified in the event of theft or loss.

With a budget of a little more than $4.1 million a year, which provides for salaries, benefits, equipment, vehicles and building maintenance, Melnick said since he joined the department a little more than four years ago, he and his team have worked tirelessly to make sure they supplement their budget with state and federal grants.

“These grants are essential for us,” the chief said. “It’s very important in helping us with getting vehicles, equipment and we’ve even able to fund two officer positions through federal grants. Since I came here, we’ve been able to secure $2,294,000 in grants.”

While LLPD has been able acquire numerous grants, the Bosque Farms Police Department hasn’t been as lucky, said Police Chief Greg Jones. Most of the grants that smaller departments like BFPD receives are from the state’s Traffic Safety Bureau and the Local DWI Program for officer overtime.

Jones said it’s harder for smaller departments, with less crime, to compete for the larger grants that come from the federal level.

Is it fair? Jones said while he would appreciate more funding, he understands how the system works and knows that the BFPD doesn’t qualify for the larger grants because of their low crime rate.

Bosque Farms Police Department is home to 14 full-time police officers, the smallest department in the county. Not only does BFPD patrol and protect Bosque Farms, the department also has an intergovernmental agreement with neighboring Peralta to provide police protection.

“Our first priority as a police department, for the citizens of both Bosque Farms and Peralta who invest in us for a purpose, is to make sure we give them a good return for their investment,” Jones said. “We have to ensure that what we’re doing is, first of all, providing what the community needs. We then have to make sure that what we do is the best we can with the resources we have.”

Jones said the police department’s role is to provide a safe environment and to ensure that residents and visitors are in a low-crime area and that their property and persons are safe.

“It really is about personal safety and just feeling secure in the area where they live and visit,” Jones said. “It doesn’t matter where we live or where we work, we all desire to be safe and secure. That’s why I believe that’s why public safety is always at the top of people’s list of concerns, whether it’s police or fire departments.”

Jones, a retired Albuquerque police officer, said he hires police officers who, first of all, like the community, its residents and visitors.

“We feel high visibility of our officers is a high deterrent to crime,” Jones said. “People around this area, and even around the state, know that Bosque Farms, and now in the town of Peralta, is known as a traffic-oriented police department. Our statistics show that our high priority on traffic safety has minimized our traffic crashes with injuries.”

Being a highly visible department on the boulevard, Jones said it helps with deterring crime throughout “The Farm.” The more visible law enforcement is in a community, the less likely those with ill intent will come in to commit a crime.

BFPD began providing law enforcement to the town of Peralta in 2008, a year after the town incorporated. The expense of starting its own force was too expensive for the fledgling municipality, so they asked their neighbors to the north for assistance.

While Peralta didn’t have enough funds to start their own department, they have been able to fund the hiring of additional BFPD officers to cover both municipalities. As the agreement between the two most northern Valencia County municipalities has evolved, Peralta town officials have also been able to contribute to the department’s budget to purchase equipment and vehicles.

Today, BFPD has 14 officers who patrol and respond to calls in both municipalities. In the beginning, Jones didn’t have too many concerns with taking on the responsibility of Peralta, but did have to work on informing and educating the residents of Bosque Farms that they would continue to receive the same level of protection they always had.

One of the biggest benefits of taking on Peralta is the increase of officer morale in the department. Jones said when he first started working for BFPD in 2001, he soon came to realize that amount of criminal activity in the area was less than he had initially expected.

“The size of Bosque Farms is about the size of one district in Albuquerque,” he said. “It took me longer than most officers to become bored with the daily routine, but I did get bored because we have a very small area to patrol and very little crime.”

Jones explained that while he enjoyed being able to meet and greet the residents, having the time to get to know the citizens, he was used to going from call to call. The chief also said that the younger officers would become frustrated that there wasn’t as much “excitement” in the village, which led to a lot of turnover in the ranks.

But the addition of Peralta has allowed for two officers to always be on shift at one time, which, Jones said, is critical to officer safety. And with a larger jurisdiction, the chief said officers are able to patrol a much larger area, which provides diversification and they’re able to respond to more calls for service.

But what the Bosque Farms Police Department makes up for the amount of “excitement” in the village is their quality and quantity of training it provides for not only to their officers, but officers around the state, Jones said.

“Our training program in Bosque Farms has helped to retain officers throughout the years, and it has even been a tool to attract quality officers,” Jones said. “We have an applicant pool like we’ve never had before.”


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.