Police chief celebrates 25 years with LCPD in September
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya said his department will lead a July 25 discussion at city hall on how to build a safer Las Cruces. The meeting, which will be a city council work session, will begin at 1 p.m. in city council chambers, 700 N. Main St., and will inform the community about what the Las Cruces Police Department (LCPD) and other agencies “are doing and trying to do” to keep the community safe in the wake of violence in other American cities, Montoya said.
Gun violence is not a serious problem in Las Cruces, said Montoya, who has been chief of police since 2013 and served three years as deputy chief before that. The bigger issue here, he said, is that gun owners leave doors unlocked and their guns are stolen during home and auto burglaries.
“The issue is responsible gun ownership,” Montoya said. Gun owners, he said, should have gun safes at home “to secure your guns,” and should make sure their vehicles are locked, especially if there are guns inside.
MONTOYA “I can see both sides,” Montoya said of the debate about background checks for firearms sales that took place during a July 11 city council meeting. “There has to be some type of common-sense gun control,” he said. In particular, there needs to be a central database that would include criminal convictions, protection orders, no-fly status, mental health issues and other information to determine “if people are capable of having a gun,” the chief said.
“It can be done,” Montoya said. “We just have to start working together to get it done.”
He said most of the crimes that police officers deal with in Las Cruces are burglaries and larcenies, and are due in part to the city’s high poverty rate. The majority of local crimes, Montoya said, are committed by “people stealing for drugs. They are looking for property to fence or sell to finance their drug habits,” he said. The major drug of choice locally is methamphetamine, or meth, the chief said.
Gangs are another local problem, but, LCPD is “able to ID players in gangs and what they’re doing,” Montoya said. “Here in Las Cruces, they all live among each other,” he said. Gang members are “no longer territorial, the way they used to be.”
Montoya, 50, will celebrate his 25th anniversary with LCPD this September. He began as a patrol officer in 1991, worked in traffic combating DWI, was a detective for five years and moved to the department’s Special Services section, which includes the Gang and Targeting Neighborhood Threats units, the Crisis Intervention Team and a community liaison officer, before becoming deputy chief in 2010.
The department has some officer vacancies at present, but it also has 46 recruits waiting to attend the police academy this fall, and Montoya said those new officers should bring his department to full strength.
Montoya said he has no plans to retire, but is already working on a department “bucket list.” His major goals are to make sure “the next person coming in will have less to worry about,” and that the department’s records management system is upgraded.
Montoya said one item got checked off his list when the department reached 200 officers late last year thanks to a $1.125 million grant from the United States Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) that allowed LCPD to hire nine additional officers.
Increasing the department’s “community policing effort” is another of Montoya’s major goals. “I want more people on the ground talking to people … more face-to-face interaction with the public,” he said. Montoya said that will also increase “outreach to our juveniles.”
The additional officers are especially important because beginning later this year when the East Mesa Public Safety complex opens, LCPD will have both an east and a west command, Montoya said. Deputy Chiefs Justin Dunivan (west) and Miguel Dominguez (east) will be the area commanders.
The community outreach effort will also include a police car that has been converted into one half police car and one half taxi and emblazoned with the message that you can pay $7,000 for a DWI conviction or $20 for a taxi ride, Montoya said. This powerful visual concept, he said, will be available for use at school rallies and to place outside bars and at other locations to help reduce drinking and driving.
The department also will sponsor a youth leadership academy at Young Park beginning at 11 a.m. on Thursday, July 28, he said.
Based on officer surveys and his daily interaction with officers and staff, Montoya said he is confident LCPD is in good shape. “I see a department that’s healthy, in that I’m not losing people to other departments,” he said. In fact, he said, LCPD is gaining officers from those other departments. “We’re highly respected,” Montoya said. People “want to work for us.”
“Chief Montoya is very professional and follows all protocol,” said Interim City Manager Daniel Avila. “He treats everyone fairly and instills in his officers to do the same. He is an asset to the City of Las Cruces,” Avila said.
Montoya said he encourages his officers to think about “that human factor. The badge says they don’t have to, but the human heart says they should,” he said.
For example, almost three-quarters of LCPD officers have received crisis intervention training (CIT) to help them deal with people who are mentally ill or in emotional crisis.
Montoya said he hopes all of his officers will have received the extra CIT by the end of 2016.
“We deal with the mentally ill on an almost-constant basis,” Montoya said. And while “It just doesn’t seem like the mentally ill get the services they need,” Montoya said, the CIT training helps his officers recognize the “need to change the way we do things.”
Although police officers confiscated about $3,000 worth of illegal fireworks, the Fourth of July holiday caused “no major problems” for local law enforcement or the community, he said.
“To me, this is not a job,” Montoya said about being police chief. “I have family that lives in this community. I like this place,” he said. “I’m going to retire here. You’ve just got to make it safe and a better place.”
Las Cruces has been Montoya’s home since 1982. His father, Victor D. Montoya, is a Las Cruces native. Chief Montoya and his wife, Bernice, have three children and two grandchildren. “My wife is my biggest supporter and my dad made me the man I am today,” he said.
Montoya will travel to Washington, D.C. later this month to participate in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which the chief called “a great honor.” The visit will include a briefing at the White House, he said.
For more information, visit http://www.las-cruces. org/en/departments/police-department, and find them on Facebook at Las Cruces Police Department.