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Women in leadership

Hatch embraces new police chief

Heads up, Hatch. There’s a new chief in town.


The Hatch Police Department recently welcomed a newly appointed chief, Aurora Hernandez, who is officially the first Hispanic female chief to lead law enforcement in the Doña Ana County village.

Hernandez was appointed earlier this month by the late Hatch Mayor James “Slim” Whitlock, just before he passed away on March 9. Hernandez is a nine-year veteran of the department with experience ranging from administrative work to several years with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in New Mexico, though her roots are planted in Mexico.

Hernandez is originally from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and still has family in the area. She explained that she lived there until the age of 20, working an administrative job. After she married, the couple moved to Kansas where her husband’s career took off and she worked part-time at Walmart. Their family was growing at this point and she was busy raising three children.

Her career took a turn when she started working at a Kansas animal shelter and met a retired lieutenant from the Dodge City Police Department. Hernandez explained that the town was quite rural at the time and there was a need for bilingual people in the department.

“Pretty much, it’s just for being Hispanic is what introduced me to all this,” she said. “I never wanted to be in law enforcement. That was not on my mind. Back in Mexico, I was an administrator. But once I moved here, obviously I needed to find a job and little by little I ended up in this career....It's one of those weird things that I wasn't looking for … the job find me.”

She started working as a detention officer in the jail in 2005, but eight months into her one-year stint, the department sent her to the police academy. Hernandez attended the University of Kansas to complete certification as a law enforcement officer.

Several years later, Hernandez moved to New Mexico and worked in the area of narcotics with Otero County law enforcement. This experience led her to take a job as a task force officer with the DEA in Sunland Park.

In March 2015, she transferred to the village of Hatch to do similar task force work. This month marks nine years she has worked in the community.

Hernandez explained that up until about a year ago, she was one of two female officers working in the department. Today, she is the only one.

Hernandez was transferred to patrol officer about two years into her time in Hatch. However, it was not long before she took over as school resource officer for the five public schools in the district. The position was supposed to be temporary, but she wound up working with the schools until earlier this month.

SRO is a position not many in the department want, Hernandez said, describing it as having a negative stigma.

“Back in the days, going to the school as SRO was a punishment for us. For me, I almost felt like OK, I'm the one on the bottom of the pole, so it's my turn,” she said.

Hernandez was initially appointed as temporary SRO while the previous officer was out of commission for a while. However, her time in the role was extended with the promise that she would be replaced soon, allowing her to return to patrol duty.

Instead, about six years passed before she left the schools to become chief.

Despite the SRO role’s reputation for being an undesirable position, Hernandez said she enjoyed her time working in the schools. Her days were spent moving between the five public schools and responding to threats or situations as they came up.

“I was a little afraid because I have three children (of) my own, but I was not too patient for anybody that was not my child,” she laughed. “I started getting along with people. They liked how I work. I like talking to people, got along with the kids. I know a lot of the families – they are really welcoming in this little town.”

She said she was surprised when she got called in for a meeting and was offered the soon-to-be vacant chief of police position.

“They called me in and they offered me the position and I was like, ‘Are you talking to the right person?’” she said.

However, Hernandez is one of the most tenured officers in the department. She was the second person to be offered the position, an appointment that is made jointly by the mayor and city manager.

She officially took over the position on March 4, just days before Whitlock died from a heart attack while at his business.

Much change is in store for Hatch’s local government, but Hernandez is prepared to lead law enforcement as the first Hispanic female chief the department has had. She joins only two other women leaders in Doña Ana County law enforcement: Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart and Anthony Chief of Police Vanessa Ordoñez.

Law enforcement has historically been a male-dominated field. Nationally, the ratio of male officers to female officers in a law enforcement career is about 86 percent to 14 percent, based on 2021 figures compiled by Data USA.

Hernandez said she has had to deal with various forms of harassment throughout her career because she is a Hispanic woman. Examples range from harsh comments from fellow officers to pushback from people who still believe law enforcement is a “man’s world.” This has all culminated in exasperating experiences and times when Hernandez was close to leaving the profession altogether.

“Sometimes it's rough with the guys, you know ... some of them still feel like it's a man's world,” she said. “Sometimes I go and scream at my husband, but he understands because he was a police officer himself,” Hernandez said.

She said she always anticipates challenges due to her past experiences. However, her perseverance paid off in the long run. Hernandez said she and the rest of the department are still getting used to the new roles, but everyone is supportive and settling in pretty well.

The now vacant role of SRO will likely remain open for the time being. Until then, Hernandez said officers will rotate the responsibility of checking in with the schools while she monitors the callouts.

Ultimately, Hernandez said she is proud to step into the role. With about four years before she plans to retire, she had not thought she would do so as the leader of a department.

“Whenever they called me and I was like, ‘It’s just another position,’ but no. It was different for everyone because we’re changing the culture – the first female Hispanic (chief) in Hatch,” she said. “For me, the community is very important. The community I feel is the one that put me here. We have trustees and (community members) go to trustees and make comments and I think I receive a lot of support from them. And I hope I do a good job for them.”

Leah Romero is a freelance reporter based in southern New Mexico. She can be reached at 575-418-3442 or Leah.R.Romero@gmail.com.

Hatch Police Chief, Aurora Hernandez, Hatch New Mexico