RIO COMMUNITIES — With a laundry list of items on order — in the mail and received — Rio Communities Police Chief Felix Nunez Jr. got the city council up to speed on the progress he’s made getting the brand new department ready to hit the streets.
“It’s a big assignment. We’re moving along well and there are a lot of team players involved,” Nunez told the councilors during an October meeting.
The chief continued, saying he was greeted with “open arms” by all the departments in the city, from finance to fire.
“This is an opportunity to be part of the great team that is already here. I’ve been places where I’ve been thrown on the bench and left to figure it out. Everyone here has an open door policy,” he said.
The chief said the department has purchased and received office computers and they are being connected to the “portals” needed, such as for accident reporting and records management. Badges for a chief, two sergeants and five officers are done, he said, acknowledging that was “ambitious.” Patches have been designed and completed, and uniforms have been purchased.
Nunez said the uniforms will be desert tan pants and boots, with black shirts.
“It’s kind of the culture to not buy Class A uniforms right away,” he said. “They are close to $1,000 and we don’t use them often. The plan is if (an officer) makes it to their one-year probation, we’ll surprise them with a Class A.”
A Class A uniform is a dress uniform worn on formal occasions, such as commendation ceremonies and funerals.
Firearms — both sidearms and rifles — have been ordered, as well as nonlethal armaments, the chief said, and the Cuba Police Department has donated tasers to the fledgling department.
“That saves us a lot of money. Even he refurbished ones are running close to $1,200 each,” he said.
Four handheld radios that are compliant with the state’s digital system have been ordered, at a cost of about $20,000. The radios for the police cars will probably be about $7,000, Nunez said.
“Things add up fast,” said the RCPD chief.
Other equipment and supplies officers will need include body armor, body cameras and evidence collection tools.
Nunez said he has begun working with the Valencia Regional Emergency Communication Center on a memorandum of understanding so the department can receive dispatch services. The center has already set up an ID number for the department, he said and established call signs for the anticipated officers.
The chief received a tour of the Valencia County Detention Center and while an MOU between the city and county still needs to be executed, Nunez said VCDC would allow the department to book in a detainee immediately, if needed.
He has also made contact with the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s office, the magistrate courts and will be meeting with the Rio Communities municipal judge “so everyone is on track.”
Developing policies and procedures for the department is also part of Nunez’s duties and he hopes to have them completed soon, with plans to achieve accreditation in three years.
The office space at City Hall is complete, with enough room for an interview room and possibly a temporary detention area for arrestees while officers process paperwork.
All the equipment, office space and internet agreements are moot without officers, so Nunez has begun advertising for two officers for the new department, with an eye to having them on the streets by the end of the year.
“Come Nov. 1, my objective is to start relieving calls from the sheriff’s office and start taking calls myself,” he said. “I’ll be a working chief and have no problem being out there, writing tickets.”
Once officers are hired and Nunez makes their training and certifications are up to date, they will receive two weeks of field training before beginning independent patrols.
“Two officers is not quite yet 24/7 coverage,” he said.
To help hire those first two officers and hopefully more down the road, the city applied for and received a law enforcement recruitment grant from the state.
The council unanimously approved the $393,750 law enforcement recruitment grant for the department. The grant funds three officer positions, covering 100 percent of the costs in the first year, 75 percent in the second and 25 percent in the third, with city’s budget making up the difference in the second and third years.
Nunez said he is looking for other funding to increase manpower, noting national law enforcement standards call for one officer for every 500 residents. The current population of Rio Communities is about 5,000 people, calling for 10 officers.
“I can’t wait for the first officer to be sworn in,” the chief said.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.