The Torrance County sheriff’s department is fully staffed “for the first time in a year and a half or two years,” said Sheriff Heath White.
White just hired two rookies who are uncertified and will now go through the police academy’s three-month program, followed by Torrance County’s three-month field training.
Another two officers are already certified, but will still go through the county’s field training.
Jose Gutierrez and Jordan Torres are the two certified officers, and both came from the Santa Fe Police Department, White said. The rookies are Melody Wyatt and Zachary Formento.
Torres put himself through the police academy, White said.
Asked about the level of experience of the new officers, White said it will be six months before the new recruits will be on duty without supervision.
“Almost every deputy I have right now, besides two, have been hired by me, whether I was the undersheriff or sheriff, and then we put them through the academy,” White said. “I’ve seen a very good quality deputy come out of that. At the very beginning they understand the community-type policing that I want, and it’s just a more well-rounded deputy in the finished product.”
White said community policing means, “We’re not here with the ‘us against them’ that’s bred into a lot of law enforcement. We’re here to work with the community, never against them, is my though process. When they’re taught here from the very beginning that’s their only experience of how to interact with the community and how to respect the community.”
Last year the county commission funded two additional deputy positions, bringing the total now to 14.
White said the extra training will pay off, even though it will be six months “until the four extra guys are going to be beneficial.” He added, “We put them through an extensive training program to make sure they meet our standards and so they fully understand what our goals are at the sheriff’s office.”
The sheriff said it “would be easy to throw them out on the streets” but said that would set the new deputies up for failure. The four new deputies were hired after going through 70 applicants, White said.
“I’ve been extremely picky, and done extensive backgrounds on a lot of people. … We try our best to hire the best deputies there are.”