Deputy Chief Matthew Champlin, with the Santa Fe Police Department, oversees the operations side of the department, including the patrol, criminal investigations, special operations and support sections.

Make no mistake: Matthew Champlin is a numbers guy.

Whether it’s an incident tracking system or a new way to follow crime trends, ask Champlain about advances in the world of public safety data and statistics and the excitement in his voice is evident.

“I just love training, and I love data and evaluation,” he said.

“If you ask people who know me, I am definitely known as a data guy, the nerd or whatever,” he added with a laugh. “I can get a hard time for it, but it is just something I have come to appreciate it.”

The passion for numbers and policy may be critical for Champlin as he assumes his new role as deputy chief of the Santa Fe Police Department, a position last held by the current Police Chief Paul Joye.

Champlin, 39, who previously served as patrol captain, primarily will oversee the operations side of the department, including the patrol, criminal investigations, special operations and support sections. Deputy Chief Ben Valdez will continue to oversee administration.

Champlin, who stepped into the new position April 16, said he’s been particularly busy with the transition but believes his experience working in all of those different divisions during his 17-year career gave him a chance to acclimate more quickly.

“I have been very, very very fortunate at this police department here,” Champlin said. “I have had the opportunity to do a lot of different things. All the sections I now oversee, I have been a part of in the past.”

Born in Northridge, Calif., and raised in Moriarty, Champlin said he knew he wanted to be a police officer since he was 16 — spurred by a chance encounter with an officer.

The son of a hardworking, single mother who would often have to juggle two jobs to make ends meet, he said his childhood wasn’t the easiest; he had friends who dabbled in narcotics and experienced domestic violence at home.

But the encounter with the officer changed his life.

“It was that interaction that made me want to be an officer,” Champlin said.

At 18, Champlin went to work for the state prison system in its K9 and narcotics units. But he knew he wanted to be an officer, and at 22 he transitioned to the small Moriarty Police Department, where he ultimately became a training officer — a field that he has grown to thoroughly enjoy.

“I really always like the training aspect of [being a police officer],” he said. “I enjoy putting on [trainings] and taking something that is a complicated topic and breaking it down to a more simplistic nature.”

In 2009, the driven Champlin decided to branch out to “see bigger and better things” and joined the Santa Fe Police Department as a patrol officer.

There, he would meet his wife, Lisa Champlin, a sergeant in the Violent Crimes Unit. The pair have a 8-year-old daughter.

“We’re definitely a police family, I guess,” he said.

Champlin’s time in patrol didn’t last long, and eventually he was promoted to a field training officer. Around that same time, he decided he wanted to go the supervisory and administrative routes.

He said a veteran officer gave him the advice — “Be diversified” — that he would grasp wholeheartedly.

Champlin tested into various sections, including the SWAT team and criminal investigations.

He was the first detective from the department to be sent full-time to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s federal task force in Albuquerque.

As a lieutenant, he also headed the graveyard shift for patrol and the department’s internal affairs division. He later was named captain in both patrol and support. During the coronavirus pandemic, he helped put together new operating procedures and policies for officers.

“COVID-19 was one of the best training experiences that I think any administration could get,” Champlin said.

In the pandemic’s first year, racial tensions also heated up in Santa Fe and nationwide, testing police agencies.

On Oct. 12, 2020, Champlin faced a difficult decision during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally on the Plaza that had become aggressive.

As a captain serving as the commanding officer that day, he ordered police to stand down, he told The New Mexican in an interview last year. After officers left the Plaza, demonstrators pulled down the 152-year-old obelisk, a monument to Civil War soldiers.

“That was my duty as the on-duty commander to make that hard decision,” Champlin said.

He added, “It was the first time for some of these officers to be surrounded by a group of people who want to hurt them … but they stood their ground for 19 minutes.”

He acknowledged the decision to stand down faced heavy criticism and became a political fireball.

As a deputy chief, he said one of his major focuses is to help Valdez improve recruiting and retention, a critical area for Santa Fe police and agencies throughout the state.

Still, numbers beckon: Champlin said statistics and data can help not only officers but the community in knowing more about crime trends in various areas. After receiving a series of complaints about speeding in a north side neighborhood, he said he had his newest patrol captain do research into the complaint by displaying a speed monitor to capture data.

Of 300 cars observed, he said most if not all were within the speed limit.

“We now have that data to take to the community to say, ‘Hey, maybe there are some unique instances, but as a general statement, people are following the speed limit,’ ” he said.

Champlain said he’s interesting in continuing to push new ways of thinking in the department, one he said has made positive steps over the past 10 years.

A recipient of the FBI’s Trilogy Award — awarded to an person who has successfully completed the FBI’s Supervisor Leadership, Command Leadership and Executive Leadership institutes — Champlin said he’s interested in taking better advantage of advance training courses offered by the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety.

That type of thinking wouldn’t come as a surprise to Valdez, who said his Champlin’s willingness to grow, learn and apply new ways of thinking are among his best traits.

Valdez, who served as Champlin’s supervisor during his time in the criminal investigations unit, remembers the younger officer throwing himself into a particularly challenging check fraud case while working in the Criminal Investigations Division.

He said most officers are more attracted toward breaking up a burglary ring or investigating someone who was fencing stolen property for drugs, as opposed to the more “meticulous” nature of a fraud case.

“What he did was put in the work to learn what he had to do to make this successful,” Valdez said. “He is going to look at challenges through a different way, and he is not going to be stuck in the idea of: ‘This is how it has always been done.’ ”

Ever the policy wonk, Champlin said he’s looking forward to helping find new ways of doing things, using data as the key.

“I don’t ever believe we are doing the best we can,” he said. “We can always do better; I truly believe that.”

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