RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Do you favor de-funding the Rio Rancho Police Department?”
I stared at my email screen in disbelief. Seldom has a sales pitch so badly misread its audience.
In fact, I’d be willing to bet that no more than a dozen Rio Rancho residents would answer in the affirmative.
But this encounter did get me thinking about Rio Rancho’s long-standing love affair with its police department, which contrasts so dramatically with the current divisions in some communities between police departments and the populations they serve.
Just last week, someone attending Rio Rancho’s Sept. 12 Black Lives Matter rally wrote in the Observer that when armed counter-protesters began menacing the BLM group, responding Rio Rancho police “were professional in their actions, quickly assessing the situation, and brought order to this gathering.” The writer added that Rio Rancho Police actually enabled some pro- and con- demonstrators to discuss their differences.
The biggest law enforcement issue I can remember during the 17 years I’ve lived here centered on “automated traffic enforcement” (red light cameras). The public’s beef then was that an electronic device had replaced a police officer in apprehending offenders.
Rio Rancho has lost three officers in the last 15 years to duty-related deaths. Two were traffic accidents, and the third was a traffic-stop shooting (by a fleeing Albuquerque felon) that shook the community to its core.
I do get it that Black Lives Matter – and brown lives, red lives, White lives, yellow lives. And Rio Rancho is no wealthy white enclave.
Census numbers show our city is 49 percent White, 43 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Black and 2 percent Native American. Over 40 percent of our average annual household income is under $50,000.
Are there racial under-currents in Rio Rancho? Of course.
But under-currents are not driving forces in our town. Here the bonds between police and citizens are holding fast during trying times.
One Rio Rancho police officer put it this way: “Our agency was built around the people, and we strive to continue to serve them, side by side. We encourage community engagement and know that without our citizens, we would never be able to our jobs well.”
And he meant it.
But there is no magic pill that can be dispensed around the country to achieve the same results.
Yes, there are community engagement activities like Coffee with a Cop. And we support our officers and their families with one-of-a-kind services that address the dangers of police work.
Certainly at some point in our past, RRPD recruiters began consciously targeting the cream of local police academy crops. Now the excellence of our officers and command staff attracts more of the same.
Summing up, a Rio Rancho officer recently told me, “Trust is long established and easy to break. We wave at citizens as we drive by; we share laughs and smiles. We are an established part of our community, nothing more or less.”
So do I support de-funding the Rio Rancho Police Department? I’d sooner defund our water supply or the air we breathe.
(Cheryl Everett is a Rio Rancho resident and former city councilor.)