Las Cruces is not going to have a riot as Ferguson or Baltimore has had riots because of police misconduct, but not because it has a professional police force. Ferguson and Baltimore have had riots because many complaints about routine police misconduct were ignored for decades. Similar police misconduct occurs in Las Cruces, but with few complaints from a predominantly Catholic Hispanic populace known for its passivity, submissiveness, and resentment. Anything as concerted or energetic as a riot is unimaginable. The police know it, politicians know it, so city leaders, with each councilor fearful of criticizing and attempting to control the police, tolerates the unprofessionalism which pervades the LCPD. (Even if he wanted to and were not too timid to do so, the City Manager would lack the support to control the Police Chief.)
I know from reading the papers, chatting with neighbors, and serving as a District 1 representative on a review panel of an independent consultant’s report on the LCPD that the abuses range from the trivial to the serious, with fear and disrespect of the police being widespread though whispered. My experience as an older, white man is of the trivial sort, but I take it as signifying how much worse it is for others younger and differently hued. Indeed, the very triviality of police misconduct in my experience indicates the reflexive belligerence and instinctive dishonesty of police officers and officials. So, as I relate my encounters of the trivial kind, bear in mind that what the police do in minor cases ensures similarly belligerent and dishonest conduct in major cases. For the LCPD, protect and serve means self-protection and self-serving.
Half a dozen years ago, when the lights were out at the 70-Triviz/Elks intersection, I flagged down an officer in the hope of getting him to direct traffic to clear up the huge back-ups all ways. His response was to pull me over, check my license and registration, and leave without asking why I had hailed him. When I challenged his rudeness and his conduct, he put his hand on his gun, approached me aggressively, and demanded what my problem was. (My wife feared that he was going to shoot me.) When I said helping traffic, he said that traffic control was not his concern, got in his car, and drove off. The detective to whom I complained excused the officer as probably—no facts—on call, though he remained silent when I asked why, if so, he had time to pull me over. So much for the “serve” of “protect and serve.”
Last year, I reported a police car, not using lights or sirens, driving south on the revitalized section of Main Street at 28 mph, about double the 15 mph speed limit. I made a report that day, 24 February; I got Chief Jaime Montoya’s response on 19 March, over three weeks later. “The officer was justified in taking the course of action alleged as inappropriate.” I requested to know the basis for the justification. He answered:
I can’t give you details of the actual investigation other than to say his driving behavior was within policy.
There are times when we respond to calls with our emergency equipment engaged and there are many reasons why we may need to exceed posted speed limits when not running code.
Some examples are:
When our employees violate policy we will hold them accountable.
Montoya’s first statement is a lie. Montoya could have given me the details but refused to do so. He did not cite an on-going investigation or national security as a justification. He did not even cite one of his listed categories as a justification. The reason: he wanted to avoid yet another lie and an admission about the officer’s unjustified speeding. When a police car speeds through a slow-speed, congested zone, it is endangering life, limb, or property, not protecting or serving. The Chief’s dishonest responses indicate that his top priority is to protect officers even if their misconduct endangers the public.
On April 23, I wrote Chief Montoya about police assistance in dealing with traffic congestion caused by roadwork on Church Street. I copied the City Manager, the Mayor, and all City Councilors. I provide Montoya’s and my exchanges on the subject “Serving the Community”:
Perhaps I am asking for far too much service to the public, but, given the disruption and diversion of Church Street traffic, do you think that the LCPD could put police officers to direct traffic at intersections not used to heavy volumes in mid-day, not to mention rush hour.
You must not have noticed the middle-of-the-afternoon backup on Campo at the intersection right across from your office on Picacho.
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This is the first complaint we have receive about the congestion, we will take a look at the area to see what type of problem there may be.
Chief J. Montoya #290
To Protect and Serve with P.R.I.D.E. [“Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Dedication and Excellence”]
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This reply does you no credit.
First, why does it matter that I am the first to complain? Is it your way of saying there is something wrong with my complaint (because no one else has complained)? Can you tell me how I might be the second (or third or fourth…) to complain?
Second, does it occur to you that people do not communicate with your department because they expert no responses or snotty ones like this one. The appropriate response would have been to thank me for calling this matter to your attention (and, if you wonder at my tone, be assured that, in a similar situation, a police officer curtly told me that he did not do traffic control).
Third, why do you not know that the Sun-News has reported complaints; you might read it.
Finally, why are you incapable of pro-active thinking about this matter? Church Street is two northbound lanes. Because of construction, it narrows to one lane, then provides a one-lane detour to a two-way, two-lane street. The Picacho/Spruce intersection has a stop sign only for Campo. Do you need to be a brain surgeon to imagine traffic issues?
When you figure out “what type of problem there may be”—how long will the investigation take?—perhaps you will also decide to do something about it.
No one—not the City Manager, not the Mayor, not any City Councilor—responded to this matter—no doubt in compliance with their concept of protecting and serving.
Three points: One, Las Cruces has an unprofessional police force which operates in defiance of its policies and posted legal notices, and in contempt of the truth and the citizens with whom it deals. Its inability to operate professionally in minor cases means that it is even less likely to operate professionally in major cases. Two, the nine highest ranking city officials—Chief Montoya, City Manager Garza, all six Counselors, and Mayor Miyagishima—are indifferent to the lack of professionalism in LCPD. Three, in a state which is a national leader in per-capita police murders, Las Cruces is unprepared for the “Big One.”