Recent highly publicized incidents have shaken the public’s confidence in the New Mexico State Police: a 39-year-old Hispanic woman who died when an officer fired 16 shots at her fleeing car; an African American mother, whose van full of children was pummeled by a baton-wielding officer, then fired upon three times by another officer; and, four other shooting incidents in which officers were involved. So far, no officer, except Elias Montoya — whose Taos roadside shooting exploits have been seen around the world on YouTube — has been found at fault. Besides being shocked by the sheer violence of these incidents, many citizens see nothing but red flags when these follow-up inquiries are conducted in-house.
Why do so many New Mexicans feel so strongly about this issue? Could it be that they personally know how some state police officers can be? When I was a high school kid in the 1960s, we called them state cops, and it was not a term of endearment. By no means were my friends and I rowdy. Most of us went to Boys State and were in student council, athletics, band, etc. But, any time we came in contact with “state cops,” they were condescending, quick to assert their authority, and lightning fast with their ticket books. Too many were rednecks who had little tolerance for teenagers or anyone from a minority or a low socio-economic group.