Full disclosure: New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas is not one of our favorite people. He lords over a clandestine organization that spends an enormous amount of time, money and other resources to keep information from the public.
State Police is by far the worst organization to try to deal with when a crime occurs. Barriers pop up, mouths shut and the bureaucracy kicks into high gear, lawyers at the ready, to keep information from the public for as long as possible.
If you watched that June 16 nightmare press conference following the La Madera shootings, you saw Kassetas saying nothing and Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan, properly informing the public, answering questions, while not endangering any investigation. After almost every question Kassetas spoke two sentences that said nothing and then Lujan would actually answer the question.
We know State Police records custodians fall out of their chairs laughing when they mail us a bill for 75 cents so we can receive an email of an incident report. We write a lot of 75 cent to $1.50 checks to our friends at State Police. They know it costs more to process a check for $1.25 than receive the check but they’re still going to do it, because they can.
They violate state law so often, in the circle of lawyers and journalists who have repeatedly and successfully sued State Police, the cases are referred to by number. “Was that DPS III or DPS IV?”
The Rio Grande SUN in April filed number five (or six?).
So when Kassetas runs crying to the media to whine about having to rescue, or recover the body of, a Forrest Fenn treasure hunter doing careless or stupid things, he’ll find little sympathy here. Kassetas is saying in a round about way, we don’t want to go looking for people, alive or dead. Stop making us do one of our jobs.
And shame on the media for giving him the time of day, much less space on their pages to complain about having to do his job.
The Department of Public Safety is properly funded by the state legislature annually. They get budget increases and cuts, like everyone else. Coming from the law enforcement side of politics, Gov. Susana Martinez has a soft spot for State Police and they surely get preferential treatment come budget time.
Kassetas’s group patrols thousands of miles of highway, oversees criminal investigations of all kinds, aids in investigations of other law enforcement agencies and works with drug task force groups. That’s just a start. So for Kassetas to complain about having to do his job when one Fenn treasure hunter turns up dead, is disingenuous at best. State Police go looking for people all the time: lost hikers, hunters, off-road drivers, people lost in snow storms, sometimes feet from a highway. It’s their job.
We can save Kassetas a calendar full of time and boat load of money by doing one simple thing: follow state law regarding public records, fire two attorneys who continually defend an indefensible position and put that money toward training your staff and district leaders in the proper disclosure of incident reports, videos, audio recording and investigative information.