Some motorists driving along NM 165 last week were puzzled by the sight of armed camouflage-clad men fanning out across U.S. Forest Service land in Placitas.
Their presence, and attire, was part of a week-long multi-jurisdictional training exercise involving 22 law enforcement officers from the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Fe Police Department, the Navajo Nation, Jemez Pueblo and U.S. Marshals Service.
It’s part of a sheriff’s office plan to start a new unit specializing in tactical tracking that can assist with search-and-rescue operations for hunters and hikers, and fugitive criminals, said Lt. Robert Chavez, who was involved in the training exercise.
Training was provided by Tac*One Consulting, a Colorado company that offers a variety of active shooter response and tactical training programs for law enforcement.
Students who participated in the training learned skills such as how to read tracks from vehicles or foot impressions, how to assess terrain to be able to predict how a person would move through an area, map reading and land navigation, said Joe Deedon, the owner of Tac*One.
“People move in certain ways depending on their intentions,” Deedon said. “This helps (students) get an idea of what direction the person might move in.”
Sandoval County sent six students and invited the other law enforcement agencies to participate. The U.S. Forest Service gave permission to conduct the training on the land in Placitas.
Each agency paid the cost for its own students, Chavez said.
Sandoval County Undersheriff Karl Wiese explained that the county wanted some of its officers to gain this type of experience because of the “Cookie Bandit” case several years ago involving a string of burglaries from cabins and trailers in the Jemez Mountains.
The burglar eluded police for nearly a decade. Then, in July 2009, deputy Sgt. Joe Harris and his partner, deputy Theresa Moriarty, were on a stakeout when they caught the man breaking into a cabin.
The suspect, Joseph Henry Burgess, was killed in an exchange of gunfire and Harris was fatally wounded, becoming the first Sandoval County Sheriff’s officer killed in the line of duty.
“We wanted to have a team so that if that type of thing happened in the future, we would be able to track and do reconnaissance, and safely bring someone into custody,” Wiese said.