Bill and I live very close to the headquarters of the State Police off Walker Road, here in Edgewood. We stopped by that office about three weeks ago to drop off some Girl Scout cookies. Officer Hernandez answered the door and politely accepted the cookies. I told her I would like to do a column on the State Police, and how glad we were to have them on our street. She remarked that if I saw three cars in the parking lot, that would be the good time to drop by. I was glad to have that information. By the next day all our state was shut down by “you know what.”
Then last week one of the State Police cars was sitting in the drive with an officer at the wheel. I slid up next to the driver side and rolled my window down. Sergeant Bryan Waller was there, and since we were in the open air, I asked if I could do an interview by email. He graciously gave me his card and said it would be OK.
What sparked my interest was an old black and white show from the 50s called Highway Patrol. It is on ME-TV at 3 a.m., and I do get up and watch it. So, boy, did I ask the right guy these questions.
1. What is the history of the New Mexico State Police? Sgt. Waller said the mass advent of cars highlighted the need for a statewide law enforcement agency. No other police force had jurisdictional authority to enforce laws throughout the state. In 1933 the New Mexico Motor Patrol was established, primarily to enforce traffic laws. The first New Mexico Motor Patrol recruit school was held at St. Michael’s College in Santa Fe, where 135 men applied, 18 were selected, and 10 were commissioned as the first officers. Earl Irish was appointed Chief at the sum of $150 a month; patrolmen made $125. Officers were given $10 to maintain their uniforms.
By 1935 the need to expand was obvious and the State Legislature changed the name to the New Mexico State Police. The uniforms adopted in 1936 are still in use today. The State Police have full police powers to enforce all state laws. “Our rank structure comes from within and to become Chief you must be working for the State Police and be appointed by the Governor,” Waller wrote. The Highway Patrol only dealt with traffic violations and investigation of crashes. I have quit watching it at 3 a.m. We have the real heroes just down the road.
2. Was there one reason or many in your decision to become a state policeman? It seems Sgt. Waller is very proud of his Grandad, George Waller, who worked on motors of the State Police in his garage and became a New Mexico Mounted Patrol officer with the reserve and volunteer units. He would ride along and assist them on calls. Bryan’s Dad, Kent Waller started with the State Police in 1974, and spent a total of 40 years with the force. His brother joined the State Police in 1998. In 2008, Bryan Waller joined for two reasons, family tradition and a sense of service to a tradition that serves a greater cause. “To represent those that came before me and to leave it a better today than it was yesterday,” as he put it. It is clear to this Mouse that the future is safer with Sgt. Waller.
3. Are you involved in Edgewood Community life and with our local police? “We work closely with the Edgewood Police Department. We share information so we can take a positive approach in serving the citizens of Edgewood,” he said. “Three of my officers live and work in Edgewood. They are all deeply rooted in the community, involved in school, church, and related activities. They are a visible presence and open line of communication.”
4. How are you dealing with the current crisis? “During this crisis we are still providing a professional service and will continue to do so. We answer calls for service and take enforcement action as needed,” my new friend wrote. “We follow precautions outlined by the CDC and Department of Health to protect our community and ourselves. We support local businesses with this difficult task.”
5. Do the State Police have motorcycles as well as cars? “Our agency started with ten motorcycles in 1933 and now we have 20 Officers on a Motor Team. The cycles are Harley Davidsons and BMWs. Their duties consist of primarily traffic enforcement in heavily congested areas, conducting patrol saturations and motorcade escorts.” I wanted to ask how they compared to C.H.I.P.s in California and if he had ever met Erik Estrada, but I thought better of it. Turns out, he watched C.H.I.P.s as a kid and later met Erik Estrada.
6. How are officers assigned, by population or miles or both? “State Police are assigned based on the needs of the Department to successfully achieve our objectives. They are based on calls for service and demands in specific communities. Sometimes the least populated are the busiest areas.”
7. If young people are interested in becoming State Police officers, where do they train and what are some of the requirements? New Mexico State Police Training and Recruiting Bureau conducts a youth academy every summer. The academy is a week long and tailored to junior and senior high school students. Information can be found at nmsp.com.”
8. What are the physical requirements? Are they the same for both men and women? “Training is typically 20 weeks long. Recruits live at the academy the entire time with occasional weekend breaks. The academy is run as a para-military operation with a focus on structure and discipline. To my knowledge, women have been a part of State Police for decades and have an essential role in our Training and Recruiting Bureau. We are actively recruiting qualified women to be a part of the best law enforcement agency in New Mexico.” This bit was brought to you with my blessing and with all our good wishes for any young lady’s success.
9. This is a serious job, but are there ever humorous moments you like to share? “The humor on this job lies within the brothers and sisters I serve with.” What no car jokes? Not one? I taught school for 30 years and I can’t tell school jokes either… or can I?
10. Why do you love your job so much and how can we help the State Police? Because of service to others.” And we can help by, “Staying off cell phones when driving. Distracted driving can result in devastating consequences. And for now, stay safe, stay home.”
This interview has been with the most knowledgeable Officer I have ever had the privilege to meet. I am so glad to have this outstanding organization here at Edgewood. I am baking them some more cookies. Roaring Mouse, feeling pretty safe. Out.