Her path was difficult and it was far from direct, but Los Lunas Police Lt. Lisa Valenzuela-Medina has spent the last few years achieving her life-long goals.
Most recently, she completed the prestigious Federal Bureau of Investigation National Police Academy, making her the third officer from LLPD to complete the program and the department’s first woman to succeed in the academy.
“I love to learn,” Valenzuela-Medina said. “Every single agent was great — great instructors. From the beginning, I was blown away by how comfortable I was (at the academy).”
Valenzuela-Medina was nominated for a spot in the 10-week academy by Los Lunas Police Chief Naithan Gurule, who graduated from the FBINA in 2012 when he was a lieutenant.
LLPD Lt. Frank Lucero graduated in 2017.
During her time at the academy, Valenzuela-Medina said she fed on the knowledge available from both the FBI instructors and her fellow officers.
“No matter how long you’ve done this job, there’s something to learn. No matter where we’re from, the size of the department, we have the same challenges,” she said. “And you take different perspectives back to your agencies. We all need to find solutions.”
While at the academy, Valenzuela-Medina, the department’s professional standards lieutenant, successfully completed classes in leadership, labor law issues, communication, fitness and contemporary issues in law enforcement.
One of the key lessons she learned is how to successfully make organizational change.
“Change is hard for people, but there’s always going to be change. The question is how do you implement these changes,” she said. “Communicating with people as the changes are made, if you help them understand why, people are more open to change.”
Taking the time to explain the rationale for changes both small and large builds employee engagement and helps officers be more invested in their community, Valenzuela-Medina said.
Becoming a police officer was a goal she had for after high school graduation, but life took a different direction, and Valenzuela-Medina spent nearly 20 years as a transportation supervisor for a local school district.
On Aug. 26, 2006, her life was changed forever when her 21-year-old son, Luke Baca, was shot and killed during a party at the Belen “B,” west of Interstate 25.
Police said witnesses at the scene reported Baca had been trying to calm an argument between the man who alleged shot him and a friend when he was shot sawed-off shotgun and killed.
Determined to make a difference, Valenzuela-Medina decided to take another run at her plan from youth and become a police officer. She spent a year physically training, preparing for the law enforcement academy.
“At the beginning of that year, I couldn’t do a push up,” she said. “I could get down but not back up.”
Valenzuela-Medina joined the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office as a pre-hire cadet and began the academy. Things were going well until one day during firearms training on the firing range.
“Something snapped. I knew I had to get out,” she said.
It took her a few days to figure out what happened, but she finally did — the target silhouette she was shooting was a man holding a sawed-off shotgun.
“I realized I hadn’t acknowledged my son’s death, hadn’t mourned him,” she said.
Taking a step back, Valenzuela-Medina took a year to take care of herself and her two children, finding a therapist and working through her grief. With God providing and her faith strengthened, there was another blow. Her daughter was in a severe car crash, which she survived, but once again, Valenzuela-Medina was confronted with her old dream.
When she arrived at the scene of her daughter’s crash, former Valencia County sheriff Rene Rivera was there.
“I realized I still wanted to be in law enforcement, but it was something I wanted to do for my own community,” Valenzuela-Medina said.
She was hired on with Valencia County Sheriff’s Office and finished the academy. Then Los Lunas had an opening and the temptation to get more training was irresistible.
“I was hungry for training,” she said. “It hasn’t been an easy road but I’m here.”
Before the loss of her son, Valenzuela-Medina’s sister, Michelle Jimenez, was killed by a drunken driver in May 1998 as she crossed the street at the Valencia Y in Los Lunas.
After some starts and stops, Valenzuela-Medina became a police officer a bit late in life.
“I told myself I would be done with the law enforcement academy before I turned 45,” she said. “I beat that deadline by two months. All this has taught me that life is short, so do what you want to do that’s good and makes you happy.”
Jim Langenberg, the Special Agent Charge for Albuquerque, said the field office’s focus is on small to medium departments, like Los Lunas, with the goal of finding the best of the best among minority officers, such as women and Hispanics, to send to the academy.
“We want the officers who go to the academy to be really representative of their communities,” Langenberg said. “They are the cream of the crop.”
Valenzuela-Medina’s academy class had 256 members, of which 26 were women.
Langenberg said the academy helps officers not only build their own skills and knowledge, but gives them a chance to network on a global level.
“It is an international program. It’s about building departments and relationships,” he said. “I look at every nomination application and these are the best and brightest. They want to move up the ladder.”
Looking to the future, Valenzuela-Medina says her focus is her department.
“I love my department and feel like I have a lot that I can offer from what I brought back from the academy,” she said. “Yes, my goal is to head a department one day and I can say when I find a good opportunity to benefit a department in that way, I will go for it.”