Sandoval Signpost

 

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Photo credit: —Bill Diven
Councilor Marian Jaramillo pins the chief's badge on Thomas Romero
after he was chosen to lead the Bernalillo Police Department.

Veteran cop named Bernalillo police chief

—Bill Diven

Thomas Romero has come full circle in his law enforcement career, starting as a cop in Tucumcari and now landing in Bernalillo as the town’s new police chief.

Along the way, he’s been an instructor at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy and bureau chief of the State Department of Public Safety Special Investigations Division, before spending 17 years with the New Mexico Lottery, nine as its first head of security and enforcement, then eight years as its chief executive.

He left the lottery in November when the board abruptly voted to terminate his contract without giving a reason. Critics of the action, including legislators and government watchdogs, pressing for an explanation were unable to get one. For his part, Romero said he knew he served at the pleasure of a board and has moved back into law enforcement.

“This is a great opportunity to use a lot of the skills I’ve learned over the years,” Romero told the Signpost after his selection. “Bernalillo is not small, but you can see the impact you have.” He continued, “Being part of a community was a big draw.”

Romero was one of 19 applicants for the position made vacant when Chief Julian Gonzales retired at the end of 2013, after three years on the job.

“Tom rose to the top. He’s got an exceptional record,” Mayor Jack Torres said before town councilors voted unanimously to appoint Romero chief. Torres also thanked Lt. Chris Stoyle for his work filling in for the chief in the interim.

After Torres swore Romero into office, Councilor Marian Jaramillo pinned the chief’s badge on Romero’s lapel. Romero said he’s not coming into the office with an agenda, but will instead be talking to his staff and citizens and getting to know the town before deciding on priorities.


Trainer Dusty Whiting (right) of Tac One Consulting works with three Sandoval County officers on their tracking skills during an exercise on U.S. Forest Service land in Placitas.

Officers train to track in the field

Signpost Staff

Earlier in April, the heavily armed men (and one woman) dressed in camouflage and prowling a piece of public land in Placitas at the entrance to the six-mile loop were just practicing their rabbit hunting—”rabbit” is police slang for a fugitive on the run. The ammunition used were blanks, and the rabbit was an actor doing his part to teach 22 officers the old-fashion tricks of the tracking trade: a footprint here, a snapped twig there, and more.

“It’s not just tracking,” said instructor D. J. “Dusty” Whiting, a retired federal agent now with Colorado-based Tac*One Consulting. “It’s situational awareness.”

That’s what can keep officers safe as they learn to blend into the countryside, working and communicating silently as a team, hunting their quarry.

In real life, however, the officers are less likely to apply their new skills to dangerous fugitives than to other searches.

“The 8-year-old who walks away from a campground; the Alzheimer’s patient; the lost hunter,” said former sheriff’s deputy and SWAT officer Joe Deedon, the owner and lead instructor of Tac*One. “It’s a little bit of everything, so we’re not just out here training for the five percent of what it’s used for. We’re training for the 95 percent, too.”

The Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department contracted with Tac*One as part of creating a unit of about ten officers trained to track fugitives and assist with search-and-rescue missions, Lt. Robert Chavez told the Signpost. The training totaled fifty to sixty hours, divided between classroom and day and night field exercises, he said.

“The sheriff’s office believes that by having a specialized unit, we can better serve Sandoval County residents and visitors to the county,” Chavez said before joining in the afternoon’s training scenario.

Chavez said those skills might have helped capture the Cookie Bandit, an elusive burglar camping in the Jemez Mountains, preying on cabins for supplies. Instead, he turned out to be a fugitive murder suspect, an identity not known until after a nighttime stakeout at a remote cabin in 2009 ended in the death of both him and sheriff Sgt. Joe Harris.

The tracking training closed off, with the permission of the U.S. Forest Service, the Bernalillo Watershed Research Natural Area at the base of the Sandia Mountains along State Road 165. The closure and the presence of numerous officers and police vehicles prompted calls to the Signpost from people concerned it was some sort of real crime scene.

Other agencies were invited to participate, so they could support each other if needed, Chavez said. Those included the Santa Fe Police Department SWAT team, the U.S. Marshals Service, and tribal officers from the Navajo Nation and Jemez Pueblo.

 
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