Back in October, Questa Mayor John A. Ortega reported at a Village Council meeting that “we are starting from scratch with this police department.” This month, newly-hired Police Chief Ronald Montez told the Questa del Rio News, “when I walked in there, there was nothing. I have a huge wish list for this police department but not a huge budget.”
Chief Montez has been working diligently to build a new police department for the Village. As a native Taoseño and a former New Mexico State Police officer, he has both knowledge of the area and the necessary job experience and training. However; he is still one person. Chief Montez would like to hire four certified officers with at least two officers on patrol at any given time, but here lies the first hurdle: finding certified officers who can start the job hitting the ground running.
Chief Montez said he is open to hiring a qualified applicant to be trained at the police academy in Santa Fe. The training would be provided by the Village but those applicants would be gone for about six months. For that reason, Chief Montez would prefer to hire applicants who have already gone through training and already have the proper certifications.
“Right now, the Academy is 16 weeks long so, if I hire an uncertified officer, he’ll be out of the job for a couple months before he can really start. That’s why I would prefer to hire people who are already certified,” said the Chief.
Chief Montez said the Village provides everything needed for officer positions. He understands that some residents may feel frustrated that our community still lacks official, effective policing but it takes time to build anything of value. The Chief is in the Village offices almost every day, 8 am – 4 pm, and encourages anyone to approach him with questions. “I’m an open book, I’ll give you all the information I can without compromising any investigations.”
At this time, the Village of Questa is still under contract with the Taos County Sheriff and Chief Montez maintains “a really good relationship with the Sheriff and the State Police.”
Chief Montez understands that police officers have very hard jobs. While serving in the State Police, he was a member of a peer officer support team to care for individual officers who were experiencing difficulty coping with stressful situations like officer-involved shootings or particularly gruesome crimes. Especially in a state where mental health resources are minimal to sub-standard, the public servants who deal with the worst aspects of our society are often hit the hardest emotionally and mentally.
“Particularly here in New Mexico where we are so limited on mental health resources, a lot of times the only person you can call is a cop,” Chief Montez lamented. “Much of the time, we are the first ones on a scene.”
Combine that nature of the job with the vitriol often displayed against police departments all over the country and it’s not hard to understand why some former police officers may be reluctant to put on the uniform again. Oftentimes, it’s a job that seldom sees appreciation.
“One of the advantages of being in a small town is that everybody knows everybody,” the Chief explained. “One of my goals is to have an email account or a phone hot-line setup where people can call me to give me info.”
A police department is only as good as the community it represents. Minimal social cohesion between residents, combined with little to no contact between residents and government officials can lead to the populace feeling alienated from the people that are supposed to represent them. This will only deepen the divide between private citizens and public servants. The more community members actively seek out ways to help their neighbors, even in what may seem like the smallest ways, the stronger that community will be.
“I understand the frustration,” the Chief said. “I understand the needs of this community, and I understand why they want a police department. That’s why we’re trying to start it back up. Safety and longevity are my priorities right now. I want to see this department thrive but if we don’t do it the right way, it won’t.”
Chief Montez believes the most significant issues in the Questa area are property crime and addictions issues, both of which cannot be solved completely through hard policing efforts alone; it takes a communal effort. It takes a community to give desperate people a sense of belonging.
“I don’t arrest a lot of bad guys, most of the people I arrest are people who made bad decisions but are not bad people.”
Chief Montez loves Questa and he wants to see this community thrive. “Northern New Mexico is its own animal, there are things that happen here that do not happen anywhere else. There is a place for everyone and I love it.”