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NEW MEXICO STATE POLICE

New Mexico State Police: reaching out, helping out in Doña Ana County

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The New Mexico State Police (NMSP) are more than a highway patrol – much more.

“We’re not just issuing tickets,” said NMSP Officer Jacquelin Hernandez.

The four officers who comprise NMSP’s community engagement team in Doña Ana County also visit schools – students can tour their the NMSP mobile command post on site, and they’re getting ready to relaunch the Police Explorers Academy.

They also can be spotted frequently at the Farmers and Crafts Market of Las Cruces; participate in local events across the county, including parades, festivals, Special Olympics, softball tournaments and other athletic events; and they reach out to the residents of Las Cruces and other communities to provide a wide range of skills and services.

Hernandez and the other team members, Sgt. Ricardo J. Rodriguez and Officers Justin Coburn and Brian De la O, have combined law enforcement service of almost 80 years. And it’s more than a job and a paycheck to all of them, Rodriguez, Hernandez and Coburn said during a visit to the Bulletin. They all live here with their families and are part of the community they serve.

“We’re very invested in this county,” Rodriguez said.

Because NMSP is “a full-service law enforcement agency,” he said, its officers patrol highways, provide backup to the Las Cruces Police Department (LCPD) and the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Office (DASO) and are involved in every type of law enforcement-related call and investigation. In addition to community engagement, there are NMSP units serving DAC that deal with drug interdiction, street crimes, traffic enforcement and DWI prevention. There’s also a tactical team.

And, even though most people who need assistance call 911, which connects them with Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority and LCPD, DASO or the Las Cruces Fire Department, they also have the option of calling NMSP dispatch to deal with a traffic accident, property crime, crimes against persons and other calls.

In the wake of the George Floyd murder, NMSP have stepped up their public outreach across the county and the state to build trust and open channels of communication, Rodriguez said.

“We’re trying to get back to the grass roots,” the sergeant said. Community policing traces its origins to the cop on the beat, who had personal relationships with communities and neighborhoods, he said.

And, while acknowledging that recruiting new officers is more difficult in “the current climate,” Rodriguez said the county is “very support of local law enforcement. We are really blessed. We really do appreciate it,” he said.

A great majority of the businesses NMSP officers visit throughout the county are “happy for us to be around,” Coburn said. “They are really glad to see us. That says a lot about the communities in our county.”

NMSP have strong leadership and “a very good chain of command here in Las Cruces,” Rodriguez said, that is “very supportive of all of the officers.” NMSP have “a strong partnership with our local communities,” he said. “People can reach out to us with confidence.”  

Rodriguez, a native of El Paso, comes from a military family – his father served in World War II – and knew from an early age that he wanted a career centered around public service. “Law enforcement and military service were going to be my call,” he said. Rodriguez has 28 years combined law enforcement service and has been a NMSP sergeant for the past 11 years.

“He’s a great sergeant,” said both Hernandez and Coburn.

During his NMSP service, “I’ve had a few people die in my arms,” Rodriguez said. He remembers a traffic accident about 10 years ago in which a retired military veteran was trapped inside a vehicle. “We couldn’t find a way to extricate him,” he said. So, Rodriguez crawled through the passenger side of the vehicle and “stayed with him until he took his last breath.”

The sergeant also remembers a fellow officer – a “co-worker and friend” – dying of cardiac arrest at the scene of a vehicle accident in 2012.

Hernandez, a native of El Paso who was raised in Las Cruces, has been with NMSP for eight years. Some of her most painful memories include a traffic fatality in Chaparral and a plane crash.

Coburn, a native of Estancia, New Mexico, has almost 20 years NMSP service. He has distinct memories of the first vehicle accident he was called to that involved the death of a child. On New Mexico Highway 28, he said, a driver ran a red light and struck another vehicle, killing the woman driving and her daughter. EMTs worked on the child “on the side of the road” for an hour and a half, Coburn said, but could not save her.

De la O is a native of the village of Doña Ana, north of Las Cruces, with 23 years of experience with NMSP.