Lt. Joe Sanchez retires after 26 years with LLPD

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What do you do after working for the Los Lunas Police Department for 26 years? Go to Disneyland of course.

What do you do after working for the Los Lunas Police Department for 26 years? Go to Disneyland of course.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: All smiles as usual, Lt. Joe Sanchez finished up his last day on the job with the Los Lunas Police Department. After 26 years with LLPD, Sanchez said it was time to retire.

Lt. Joe Sanchez remembers when the police station was “under the water tower” on Luna Avenue and when the village was home to nearly 6,000 people. He joined the force in 1988, almost on a whim.

“I had always done public safety work, I was always volunteering. I wanted to do something different,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t think I had a chance.”

As a truck driver for a food delivery company, he was also a volunteer firefighter for Bernalillo County in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Sanchez was passing through Los Lunas when he saw a notice that the police department was recruiting.

“I stopped to fill it out, did some testing and passed,” he said. “I didn’t think I would get a job since I’m not from here.”

There were five open positions and 20 applicants.

“A lot of them were from here. And I thought I failed the body-drag test,” he remembers. “You were supposed to drag it. I picked it up and carried it.”

After a month of in-house training, the Albuquerque resident was out on patrol. Sanchez found the excitement he was looking for, whether it was answering a domestic violence call or writing a traffic ticket.

“We enjoyed the hell out of writing traffic tickets on Main (Street) and (N.M.) 314,” he said, laughing at the memory.

In a small town, drivers knew which officers would cut them some slack on a traffic violation, Sanchez said. He wasn’t one of them.

“If I was going to stick my neck out for a traffic stop — and that’s what we were doing every time we made one — you were getting a ticket,” he said.

One traffic ticket for a broken headlight led to the arrest of one of Bernalillo County’s most wanted.

“Boy, we hit the jackpot with that one,” Sanchez said. “But we never made a big deal out of it.”

As the years went on, Sanchez advanced in rank, attaining lieutenant in the mid to late 1990s. He couldn’t remember exactly when.

“It was a long time ago, back when the department was switching from dinosaurs to horses,” he says, laughing.

During his career, Sanchez says he has always found the humor in things.

“When I started working for the department, people didn’t think I took the job seriously,” he said. “There are serious parts, things you have to take seriously but you can’t kill yourself. You have to find humor cause some of this stuff is really funny.”

Sometimes his humor did lead to conversations with his higher-ups though. One day, as he was writing a ticket to a driver on Grant Boulevard, the man started cracking jokes.

“I’m laughing but he’s still getting a ticket,” Sanchez said. “I guess someone saw us and complained that I was laughing at this guy while giving him the ticket. My supervisor called me in and I explained, ‘Yeah I was laughing; he was making me laugh.’ Some people have nothing better to do, I guess.”

But the job wasn’t always full of chuckles. Sanchez said one incident he will never forget happened about six years ago. He and two other officers responded to a 911 call in Huning Ranch. The caller said his wife had a shotgun. When the officers arrived, she ran out of the house, unarmed. They began searching the house, looking for her husband.

“We were thinking he was shot. So we get to the last room, a bedroom, and the door is closed. So we open the door and this knucklehead has a shotgun,” Sanchez said.

He and one of the other officers spent the next two hours, “eyeball-to-eyeball, gun-to-gun, just talking to this guy. He was drunk and we managed to talk him out. Luckily, he decided to put the gun down and never pointed it at us.”

In the last several years of his career, Sanchez hasn’t been face-to-face with an armed man; instead he has spent his time out in the community, doing public relations events at schools and other events around the county. He organizes the annual Cops and Kids Fun Run as well. During the different events, Sanchez says he does things to promote the department and show the community the positive aspects of what it does.

That often involves bringing equipment like the department’s K-9 unit or its MRAP, the mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle. Sanchez said the MRAP can look intimidating, but school children like to get in it and see what it’s all about.

“They like to get in there and see the ladders and shields,” he said.

Sanchez added that most people don’t know why the department has something as specialized as an armored vehicle. It’s one of things that they don’t use often, but when it’s needed it’s vital.

There was a recent incident in Los Lunas where a suspect was barricaded in his house and fired more than 80 rounds at police.

“Without the MRAP, we wouldn’t have been able to rescue two of our guys who were pinned down,” Sanchez said.

And sometimes, the demonstrations can go a little off the rails. During a demonstration with a K-9 dog at a school, the decoy for the event was a female officer. Sanchez was helping her put on the well-padded suit.

“Her boots were too big so I was literally lifting her up off the ground, trying to shove her in the pants, to shake her down into the pants,” he said. “We started laughing so hard we almost fell down.”

The job has been fun and there have been a lot of good times, but it’s time to move on, Sanchez said.

“I’ll miss a lot of them,” he said of his fellow officers.

But the 54-year-old is looking forward to just having some time off.

“I’ve had a job every single summer since I was a sophomore in high school,” he said. “I’m taking the kids to Disneyland, maybe San Diego. We’ll just bum around. When fall rolls around, I’ll see what I feel like doing then.”


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