At the end of this month, Taos loses its police chief of the last two and a half years, and one of the longest-serving members of its local police force.
David Trujillo, an Army veteran originally from Los Angeles, California, climbed the ranks from patrolman to police chief over a 20-year career. He leaves the badge behind on Feb. 28. He plans to embark on a new chapter working with his wife, Yvonne Trujillo, a realtor for Coldwell Banker. The soon-to-retire chief said he sees a lucrative opportunity in the real estate business and plans to pursue his own license this year.
Meanwhile, officials at the town of Taos are already close to selecting his successor.
“We have been working very hard over the past four years to make sure that those that are reaching retirement have been training their successors,” said town manager Rick Bellis, who will make the final call on Trujillo’s replacement.
Prior to the hiring of Trujillo’s predecessor, Randy Parmer, in 2016, police chiefs in Taos were selected by the town council as political appointees. Bellis said that process created a slew of problems, including the need for all town employees, including the police chief, to be reappointed by the mayor and then approved by a majority of newly elected councilors.
Bellis said the mayor, council and managers voted unanimously to change the system in order to ensure future chiefs would not be influenced by politics, and could instead focus on effective law enforcement management and policies for the town.
The open position was posted internally at the police department on Monday (Feb. 3). Bellis indicated that it’s unlikely the position will be opened to external candidates. He said he will likely make the new hire before Trujillo departs.
Trujillo recently responded to a few questions from Taos News about his time with the department.
Why does now feel like the right time to retire?
I’m only 45 and can achieve a lot more before I become of age for full retirement. I must think about the future for my family, have a plan and be financially wise.
For how many years have you worked in law enforcement and why did you choose it as a career?
I have been in law enforcement for 20 years now, and before I was in the U.S. Army for five years. That’s 25 years in government service. When I ended my time in service with the Army, I moved back to Taos, where there was not much opportunity in the job field. Law enforcement always struck my curiosity, but I did not intend to become a police officer.
I caught shoplifters at Walmart for a short period of time, where I started to get to know the local police officers. I guess you can say that they started to recruit me at that point and my mindset started to focus on a career, rather than a job. I applied to become a police officer with the Taos Police Department in 1999. Chief Neil Curran hired me … I started this very rewarding career in 2000.
What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned working in the field?
I graduated the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy in 2001, with class #155. I worked as a patrolman until 2003, when I became the school resource officer. I worked for the school year as a school resource officer through 2004, when our short-staffed department needed a supervisor to fill a vacant position. In 2004, I became an acting sergeant, whereafter, in 2005, I was promoted to the full rank of sergeant.
I had been a sergeant for the Town of Taos Police Department for about 14 years, where I took on many additional responsibilities to include being an accreditation manager for the police department’s accreditation program. I became a certified accreditation assessor for the New Mexico Municipal League. I was a field training officer, a bike team supervisor, a field training officer supervisor, Operation DWI/ENDWI supervisor, taser instructor, defensive tactics instructor, crash investigation instructor and DWI investigations and standardized field sobriety test instructor.
In 2014, I became the administrative sergeant for the Taos Police Department, supervising the administrative branches, to include the evidence technician, school resource officer, animal control officer, police service aide, parking enforcement officer. I also oversaw the accreditation program, writing and implementing many policies for the police department. I worked in the capacity as an internal affairs investigator for the department, ensuring that officers were held to the standards of law, policy and procedures of the town of Taos and the Taos Police Department. I assisted the operations lieutenant in daily duties and planned operational/tactical plans for many concerts, festivals and events. I was able to achieve over 800 hours of advanced law enforcement training throughout the years I have served.
In September 2017 I became the chief of police for the Taos Police Department.
What’s the biggest misperception the public has about law enforcement, in your opinion?
We are human. Humans make mistakes as we are imperfect. We are here to serve our public and to ensure peace, safety and protection of life, property and rights. It’s not the “us versus them” mentality. That’s not right. It’s about us, all of us, working and living peacefully and in harmony as a free people.
As you leave the department, where do things stand with our local police force? Is the department fully staffed? If not, which positions are you looking to fill?
The Taos Police Department is not yet fully staffed as there is a nationwide shortage of law enforcement. It is a very competitive career field, with a vast number of duties and employers. I do not remember a time where we weren’t seeking to fill vacant positions. I think in the 20 years I’ve been with the Taos Police Department, we have only been fully staffed two times, and for very short periods at that.
Our plan is to keep our police officer positions open for applicants, even if positions are full. The goal would be to create a hiring list of qualified applicants to immediately fill positions once there is a vacancy. The problem is we get very few cadet applicants who can meet the minimum standards and even fewer applicants who are already certified law enforcement officers (lateral candidates) to apply for vacancies.
We are currently looking for three police officer candidates, whether certified laterals or cadets. We are also looking to fill a vacancy for evidence technician.
What have you accomplished in the department that you are proud of and what would you like to see change there in the future?
With the support of the police department staff, the town manager, town council and our mayor, we were able to push the department forward from being severely understaffed to near fully staffed. We were able to put into play purchasing mobile data terminals for all patrol units, and implemented Traffic and Criminal Software (TraCS), which is utilized by several different agencies around the country for crash investigations and traffic citations, etc. This helps our officers be more visible on the streets and more accessible to the public. The Taos Police Department is the first agency in Northern New Mexico to become fully automated and nearly paperless due to this process.
We implemented the first investigations unit, consisting of a sergeant and three detectives. The sergeant supervises investigations, assigns and tracks cases and gives proper guidance to the detectives assigned to his unit. The detectives assigned to the unit have specialties, which are as follows: general investigations, domestic violence, crimes against children and narcotics. We have a common goal, which is to protect the lives, property and rights of our citizens and to solve crimes.
What will you miss most about working in law enforcement?
The legacy of the family I leave behind. I will miss my brothers and sisters. They hold a very special place in my heart, each of them. I will also miss being of service to my community in the capacity of law enforcement. Helping people and knowing you make a difference are what makes this career worthwhile daily.
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