The Española Police Department currently needs to hire at least four officers to maintain patrol coverage in the city, Department Sgt. George Martinez said May 31.
Martinez said there are times when there is only one officer patrolling the streets for an entire shift.
“We need bodies in the street,” Martinez said.
Several recent departures have impacted the Department: Cory Atencio resigned, as did Yvonne De La O; Cody Lattin, a detention officer who was found guilty of driving while intoxicated, has also recently left his employment with the Department.
Officer Jerome Broyles will soon be leaving to attend training at the Law Enforcement Academy to obtain his certification, which will mean if no new officers are hired, the city government will be even more short-handed during the coming months, Martinez said.
Applicants have to be nearly 21 years old, Martinez said, but the Department will hire those that are around six months short of the age.
As for the application process, Martinez said it is a big application packet.
“We do our homework,” Martinez said. “The personal integrity questionnaire is the most important part.”
While having a ticket or arrest in the past will not necessarily prevent someone from getting a job with Department, lying about it will, Martinez said.
He said the background investigation conducted by the Department is very in-depth. He said a recent applicant failed to disclose his previous arrests for domestic violence-related incidents.
“He said he’d never been involved in a domestic, but he had been,” Martinez said. “This at Tesuque and at Pojoaque, but he didn’t mention it, so that was a red flag right away for me.”
Martinez said the Department was not able to offer the applicant a position because he was dishonest in the questionnaire, and that it was possible some of those charges would have prevented the applicant from being offered a position.
In addition to reviewing court records, the Department contacts previous employers to ask about the individuals that apply to become police officers.
“All references are going to give (an applicant) a good thumbs up, every one that I’ve called gives everyone a thumbs up,” Martinez said. “What you’ve got to do is go with a past employer, the history with their employer.”
Whether it is a fast food restaurant or construction business, Martinez said by talking to previous employers, you can learn a lot about an applicant.
“They’ll give you a lot of information on how this person was (as an employee) and why they left,” Martinez said.
When it comes to hiring new officers, there has been a lot of discussion about hiring certified versus non-certified officers. Certified officers have already attended the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy, while uncertified officers will have to attend the Academy within their first year of employment.
“I’d rather hire someone uncertified, and train them to do things our way, to follow our policies,” Martinez said.
He said when hiring already-certified officers, there is often a period of retraining, and sometimes even resistance by those officers to follow Department policies.
“They’ll say, ‘That’s not how we used to do it at whatever place,’ that they worked before,” Martinez said. “That’s why sometimes new officers are better; we can mold them here to fit our community and our needs.”
Martinez said the Department struggles to hire and attract experienced officers because the pay is lower in Española than in other areas, such as Albuquerque. The Albuquerque Police Department starts officers at a much higher pay rate, and even offers bonuses and additional pay for continuing education, a luxury the City of Española cannot provide.
“That’s why a lot of times when we get certified applicants, they’ve already worked in several departments, and that in itself is a red flag (during the background review process),” Martinez said. “When officers are moving around across the state and going to multiple departments, it is usually because they have had problems.”
City of Española Human Resources Director Sally Baxter said in a May 31 interview the city is currently hiring four officers.
“We’re advertising for uncertified and certified,” Baxter said. “(It’s) up to the chief if they want to try to fill ‘em with all uncertified, or all certified.”
Interested applicants can pick up an application at city hall, Martinez said.
SUN News Editor Austin Fisher contributed reporting to this story.