Shoppers will soon see an increased police presence at Lowe’s Home Improvement after the Española City Council approved an agreement to place off-duty police officers at the store.
The Memorandum of Understanding, adopted in a Jan. 14 unanimous vote, between the city and Protos Security—Lowe’s contracted security service—enables officers to patrol Lowe’s as an auxiliary police force for overtime pay shifts.
The agreement requires the Española Police Department to provide an officer for an 8-hour shift every day, to still act under the authority and responsibility of the Department.
They are to work as regular police officers—making arrests, filing reports, and serving warrants—but do so while patrolling the store’s property.
Officers regularly respond to Lowe’s and the adjacent Walmart for calls of shoplifting and less frequent but still common reports of assault or harassment. The complex has the highest density of 911 calls in the city.
Interim police chief Roger Jimenez told the Council that the city’s Finance Department and contracted city attorney reviewed and greenlit the Memorandum.
“(Citizens) don’t feel safe anymore at the Lowe’s and the Walmart,” he said. “One thing that we want to do is hopefully keep the business here in the Valley and help our (Gross Receipt Taxes) grow.”
Mayor Javier Sanchez said elected officials get calls from constituents all the time about taking their shopping to Los Alamos or elsewhere because they do not feel safe in Española, and that it is the norm in other communities for city police to patrol around commercial areas.
“I am super excited about this kind of concept—I think we were all running on the idea that we need to protect our citizens much better,” he said. “We are here as a Council to shift our paradigm into expecting norms that are taking us into a positive direction.”
Councilor Peggy Sue Martinez raised concerns over the potential legal implications of the contract for purposes of insurance or liability if an officer is injured or injures someone else.
The document states each party will be individually liable for potential damages and maintain independent insurance.
Martinez ultimately amended the Memorandum to remove a portion designating officers themselves as independent contractors, saying it contradicted the rest of the document which indicated the city was the contracting agency.
Jonas Nahoum, a contracted attorney for the city, said the change would not cause problems, and that the clause was only included to emphasize that the officers would not be acting as employees of Protos Security or Lowe’s.
Protos Security will pay the city between $33 and $60 per hour for officers’ services—Jimenez said he and the Finance Department officials are still hashing out whether to charge a flat rate—and the officers will receive their regular time-and-a-half overtime pay based on existing salaries.
In the event of an emergency, the officers may be called to another part of the city without penalty.
Councilor Denise Benavidez said increased Gross Receipts Tax revenue from people shopping in Española could help with unspecified housing projects in the future.