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State Police chief replies to comments by Grants mayor

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico State Police Chief Tim Johnson has had enough of the name calling and the idea of pitting law enforcement agencies against each other.

NM State Police Chief Tim Johnson

As the state’s top law enforcement officer, Johnson told the Journal on Friday he felt compelled to respond to comments made by Grants Mayor Martin Hicks, who in recent media reports called State Police officers Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s “Gestapo.”

Johnson said he understands Hicks’ position as an elected leader trying to make the best decisions he can on behalf of his constituents.

“NMSP is not naive to the fact that our state’s economy is struggling right now. Many of our citizens are worried about their livelihood. Couple that with trying to keep themselves safe and healthy and it is easy to draw that conclusion that a lot of folks are in a bad place right now.”

But, he told the Journal, “I must address any statements or excited utterances that have the potential to endanger the people I’m paid to protect: the public and my officers. The idea of attempting to pit the citizens or business owners against State Police officers is one thing. Publicly stating it is another.”

Hicks, whose town has 10 COVID-19 positive cases according to state data, made the comments in an interview published by the Associated Press last week.

“We are going to stop Lujan Grisham and her Gestapo,” referring to the secret police of Nazi Germany, the AP reported.

Johnson said citizens shouldn’t be directed by elected officials to violate laws or jeopardize the public’s health, referring to the Hicks’ statements that nonessential businesses would be opened Monday in violation of the governor’s public health order.

“This puts both the citizens and my officers in a very difficult and unnecessary position. A position that has the potential to create terrible relationships not only right now during this pandemic, but on the back end of this.”

Johnson also bristled at the mayor’s announcement that businesses and citizens of Grants should call 911 if State Police show up at their places of business to enforce the public health order.

“Reading between the lines, this is an attempt to now pit the local police departments against the State Police. This plan will undoubtedly tie up critical emergency resources, and more importantly has the potential to create frictions between boots on the ground officers whom the public expects to work as collaboratively as possible to protect them.”

As those in law enforcement know, as too should public officials, very often State Police rely on backup and assistance from local law enforcement officers, he said.

“I know for a fact that we are often their backup as well,” he said. “Driving a wedge between law enforcement agencies is the last thing that is needed during times like this – at any time, frankly.”

Johnson said his officers take no “pride” in having to visit businesses and “respectfully relay to them that they are deemed nonessential.

“Unfortunately, it’s their job right now,” he said.

As whether State Police will be in Grants citing businesses that are violating the public health order, Johnson said his agency will be following the same protocol.

“We will respond to any complaints about nonessential businesses being open,” he said.

Since March 24, State Police officers have responded to 2,107 calls alleging businesses operating in violation of the public health order. Of those, 124 “cease-and-desist” orders have been issued to first-time violators, who are contacted in person and educated about the order. For second-time violators, State Police have issued only three citations to date statewide, involving two smoke shops and a loan company. Two individuals have been referred to the Department of Health for repeated noncompliance and civil penalties may be imposed.

“Name calling at a time like this is unnecessary, especially directed at first responders,” Johnson said. “My officers are doing a job that they’ve never had to do before. A job I hope they never have to do again. They didn’t sign up for this, but they understand the mission and follow it because that’s what public servants do.”

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