In less than two weeks, the New Mexico State Police office in Los Lunas will relocate into a building on the former Los Lunas Hospital and Training School property. Some local residents don’t like the move.
According to New Mexico State Police Assistant Chief Roger Payne, the new accommodations will give officers currently assigned to the Los Lunas office more room to work.
“There were a number of factors involved,” Payne said. “Along with more space, the state had the property available, and it was in our best interests to move. It’s a considerably larger space and room for future expansion.”
The present state police office is located on NM 314, just north of Courthouse Road, while the new site is north of NM 6, also known as Main Street.
The Los Lunas office has two sergeants, eight officers, two criminal agents and an administrative secretary. Payne said they are currently trying to recruit more officers to the Los Lunas staff and more space is needed.
George Marquez, public information officer for the state’s General Services Department, said the local law enforcement agency will be moved into the new location by April 30.
“Since we have the space available, it just makes sense to move it into a state-owned building,” Marquez said. “For us, it’s about cost savings.”
Although the officers will have more space to work, several citizens have voiced their concerns to the state about the move. One of the biggest concerns with the relocation is accessibility in and out of the former hospital and training school property.
“I’d like to see the state police stay were they are at on Highway 314,” said Los Lunas resident Steven Chavez. “I think they can better serve the public from where they are at now.”
Chavez, who is the former county planner, has written to the General Services Department Property Control Division to voice his concern about the move.
“In my opinion, I think it will be extremely dangerous when responding to a call from the hospital and training school when the traffic is very congested,” Chavez said. “Because the level of service is so poor on Main Street, it will be a detriment to the community. I believe they are acting out of convenience to save money, and, by doing so, I think they are placing the community at a higher risk of harm.”
Payne disagrees and said the issue of traffic didn’t play a part in the decision to move the local state police office.
“If it’s an emergency situation, they’ll still be able to get in and out,” he said. “I don’t think the traffic is that radically different to where they are now.”
Chavez also said having two separate law enforcement departments (Los Lunas Police Department and State Police) within 100 yards of each other is poor planing and undermines the community needs.
“I don’t like the idea of consolidating police agencies together,” he said. “It may be OK in an urban setting, but this is a rural setting, and we need to disperse or public safety accordingly.”
Currently, the state police office is about 100 yards west of the Valencia County Sheriff’s Department, but, Chavez says, it’s not the same because they are not on the same street.
Diane Huckabee, executive director of the Los Lunas-Bosque Farms Chamber of Commerce, said she is also very concerned with the relocation of the local state police office.
“First of all, the state police department has been there for about 17 years,” she said. “It’s very visible, and there is very little crime in the area. I’ve met with several business owners and residents, and they also think it’s really key to help keep the crime rate down in the area.”
It’s not only the residents who are concerned with the relocation. Yvonne Sanchez is the owner of Rio Grande Financial, which is located in the same complex as the state police.
“I’ve been here for about a year-and-a-half, and we have an all-female office,” she said. “We just feel more secure with state police in the area.
“Our main concern is crime. We haven’t experienced crime since we’ve been in the building, but I’m afraid that, once they leave, it will happen.”
Sanchez said she is also concerned that, when the state police office moves, people will be unable to find it. “There is absolutely no visibility at the training school,” she said. “It will be diminishing their presence in the community.”
Payne said he understands the concerns regarding the crime rate, but said he couldn’t foresee any major crime rate increase in the area.
“The neighborhood is patrolled and enforced by the local law enforcement,” Payne said. “And, if the crime rate is low, then it shows that the local law enforcement is doing their job.”
Phillip Jaramillo, Los Lunas Village administrator, also said he likes the present location of the state police office. He said he has concerns with the traffic during peak hours on Main Street in front of the hospital and training school property.
“We fight the same problems,” he said. “We’re much closer to the bottleneck, but we have created a back way through Don Pasqual, and we’ll make it available to state police.”
Local attorney David Chavez and three other individuals own the office complex where the state police are currently located. Chavez said he bought the building about 10 years ago – several years after the state police started leasing the property.
“I was sent a letter about two weeks ago telling me they were not going to renew their lease,” Chavez said. “The state police had asked me if I could give them additional space for expansion, and I told them I could accommodate for the space. They seemed very pleased and satisfied.”
Chavez, who receives $1,400 a month in rent from the state police, said the money isn’t the reason why he has concerns about the move.
“If they move, that’s their decision – it doesn’t impact me, but it impacts the community and the neighborhood,” he said. “The collateral benefits to the neighborhood are tremendous. Having the presence of a police force in a community is tremendous. We have little to low crime and little to no graffiti.”
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.