RIO COMMUNITIES — For the first time since Rio Communities incorporated as a municipality 10 years ago, the mayor appointed — with the council’s unanimous consent — the city’s first police chief.
Rio Communities Mayor Joshua Ramsell appointed Felix Nunez Jr. Monday night as the Rio Communities police chief.
Nunez, who was one of more than 30 applicants interested in the position, will start on Tuesday, Sept. 5. Nunez is currently the chief of police in the village of Jemez Springs, N.M., a position he’s held since 2016.
Ramsell said Nunez stood out to him because of his work ethic and how he’s shown his commitment to a community and its citizens.
“He’s not just going to drive around and patrol,” Ramsell said. “He’ll get down, stop and say, ‘hello.’ He’s going to walk into a coffee shop or a business, introduce himself and let them know he’s there for them.”
In a telephone interview with the News-Bulletin, Nunez said he’s looking forward to working in and for the citizens of Rio Communities.
“This is their police department, and I want to make sure they know that I’m here for them,” he said. “This is going to be a great place for me and I think it’s going to work out really well. We’re going to make this work — I have some big plans.”
Nunez said since he’s been the chief of police in Jemez Springs, the community has welcomed him with open arms. He said while it will be hard to leave, he knows he is coming to a place where he can help.
“I look forward to building that relationship and partnership with Rio Communities,” he said. “This is not my department — this is the community’s department. I’m there to host it and manage it, and we need to make sure our officers, our department, fits the community.”
Ramsell said Nunez’s experience and knowledge of working with other local, state and federal agencies is going to be an asset to Rio Communities.
“We had a large candidate pool, lots of experienced candidates coming from various communities, different sizes, and different backgrounds in law enforcement,” Ramsell said. “The council went through all the applications and made their determination based on the qualifications and various types of law enforcement.”
The mayor said Monday was a “monumental day” for the city of Rio Communities. One of the main reasons residents voted to incorporate a decade ago was a concern for public safety.
“It’s a great day for Rio Communities, and this has been a long time coming,” the mayor said. “I know my family, friends and neighbors are ecstatic.
“When the community incorporated, a lot of people really didn’t understand the amount of work that would go into this.”
Ramsell said the city had to develop a budget over time that could manage the high and reoccurring costs of a police department, including salaries, equipment, vehicles and space.
“Now that we’re in a position to actually afford that, we’re hoping to give them the police coverage they’re expecting,” Ramsell said of the citizens and businesses in Rio Communities. “We are looking to grow from here, and to have a police chief help us.”
The mayor said the police department area in the city hall complex has been completed, and two police vehicles are ready to go.
One of Nunez’s first tasks is to build the department from the ground up, including hiring an officer and a clerk/evidence technician.
“We’ve made sure they have the equipment and resources they need to begin on day one,” Ramsell said.
Nunez isn’t a stranger to building departments. When he was hired as chief in Jemez Springs, he was the only officer on duty. He explained the department had gone through various transformations over the years, but he was ready for the challenge of building it back up. Today the department has a variety of full-time and part-time officers.
“I was able to build up Jemez Springs, and I kind of specialize in building departments, including a couple of bureaus for the state,” he said.
Even before beginning his new position as police chief in Rio Communities, Nunez is researching what grants and other funding sources they could qualify for to build the department and add to the number of officers.
“I have plans to reach out to the legislators for capital outlay funding,” he said. “We’re a brand new department, and I’ve been researching and the last police department to open was 20 years ago. So we want to make sure we do it right and stay ahead of the times.”
Nunez previously worked as a detective and criminal investigation supervisor with the New Mexico Department of Transportation IG Office from 2015-16.
From 2012 to 2015, Nunez was an officer and DEA task force officer for the Corrales Police Department, and was a senior criminal investigator with the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office 2003 to 2012 with former DA Lemuel Martinez.
Nunez said during that time, he was able to work with and got to know local law enforcement agencies in Valencia County.
He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from the University of Phoenix, and is working on attaining a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Lewis University.
During it’s first 10 years of incorporation, Rio Communities has contracted with the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.
When Valencia County Sheriff Denise Vigil told Rio Communities city officials last year her office would no longer be able to continue the contract after July 1, Rio Communities City Manager Martin Moore and the council began researching how to budget for and form its own police department.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.