Sitting within a patrol unit is a decorated young man. In a custom-fitted outfit made of navy-blue material, the young man’s top torso is decorated with off-colored patches, a shiny shield, and a belt ornamented with different gadgets. His name is Justin Apadoca. He stands near 6’0”, slim, clean shaven, and has a boyish feature. He is 24.
“Know your cars, know what you’re looking for” he says and points out the year and make of several vehicles passing by. “Know what city property is and what private property is. Sometimes you can’t touch people on private property,” as he points to Walgreens.
“Know your holster,” he says as he points at his gun. “We changed from the revolver to glocks. A traditional revolver only carries six rounds, as opposed to a glock that has a magazine of 15-16 rounds, plus two more magazines.” He pulls out a magazine from his belt, and his glock-40 “This has night sights and a flashlight.”
“Also, we have mace which shoots in mist or streams. We all go through training so we all know its affects. It’s like having bad cold symptoms.” He points to his side, “This is an expendable baton.” His hand then moves around to his back pointing, “I carry two handcuffs. You can use your handcuffs in many ways, but mostly for restraining.” He pulls out gloves, “We also carry latex-gloves. You never know what people carry or have, so you have to be careful with who you touch.” He detaches a cylinder from his belt. “Most importantly, we have a flashlight. This can be used in many ways during the night,” he turns on the LED light, “The multiple settings can help us just in case we enter an area where we can’t communicate with one another.” He knocks his chest to ensure he’s wearing a bullet proof vest.
The voice of a young man blares on the radio, “324 Santa Fe Southside.”
“324 with Adam,” Apadoca replies. An “Adam” is an officer that has a ride-a-long””a passenger, he explains.
“Before 9/11 the 10-code system was what the police used in Santa Fe,” says Apadoca. “10-70 was ”˜to fly.’ Code 38 was ”˜to refuel.’ You’ll hear a lot of the older guys use the 10-code system still. After 9/11, we changed to plain speech because during 9/11 the firemen and the police could not understand or communicate with one another,“ he says as he turns his wheel slowly to the left.
“Our 10-code was much different than their 10-code, now we just use plain speech to communicate just in case,” as he pulls into the mall parking lot and puts the car in park.
“We also use the CAD-system. As you can tell, I don’t have a computer so this is my computer.” He points to a pen and notepad that sits on a steal bracket where a computer once sat. The CAD website is used by police departments in large cities, also known as Computer Aided Dispatch.
He drives around talking and listening, plus writing down addresses of suspects when suddenly there is a distress call to 324 over the radio: two people are allegedly fighting on St. Francis and Cerrillos.
“We were probably asked to check this out because we’re the closest,” he says.
With a switch of a button, lights flicker, and the siren explodes. Through the streets, the car swerves around vehicles that merge left and right as the siren screams up north St. Francis. He spots two people stumbling on the streets, near the intersection””laughing. “I wonder if that’s them” he says and turns south on St. Francis. As he stops at the light he inspects the suspects and watches them cross the street. The light turns green and he proceeds south while looking at the two people, he turns the car around north, once more, and pulls right into the parking lot while turning on his lights.
He surprises the two people and the gentleman’s hands fly up. “C’mon!” he yells, and let’s a few obscenities escape his mouth. The woman giggles. Another officer arrives and they ask for their identification. Then, the fire department makes an appearance
“Oh I just fell,” says the woman. “We’re harmless. We don’t smoke, we don’t deal, we’re just alcoholics” and laughs.
When Apadoca returns to the car, he shakes his head. “Did you hear that?” He puts the car into drive and they allow the people to continue walking.
“Sometimes you have to be aware of your suspects. Sometimes you don’t know what to expect””what they’re carrying,” He points the back of the patrol car where holes are taped up “You have to be cautious at all times. I had a man spit through those holes the other night,” he points. “You don’t’ know what these people carry, but it’s scary when you have someone spit blood,” he shakes his head, “Once I had this guy spit blood right onto my face. Blood got in my mouth and in my eyes.” He continues, “It’s scary sometimes to not know how the night will be,” he puts the vehicle into drive, “We all have families and we want to be with them at the end of our shifts.”
There is a burden each officer of the Santa Fe Department carries inside their minds as they prepare for their night’s journey. Like a knight, each officer stands equipped with modern day body armor that is used for his or her protection. Instead of the mighty sword strapped to their sides, they have shiny black guns. Instead of a shield, they are given batons. Instead of helmets, they yield sunglasses to protect their eyes. As opposed to the armor a knight possesses, these modern-day protectors have no healthy steeds but are given cars as their mode of transportation which is equipped with more gadgets.
Montoya sits in the drivers seat of her squad car as she calls over to her fellow officer known as Brian. “Hey,” says Montoya. “I’m gonna go 38 real quick.”
“Huh?” asks Brian.
“I’m going to put gas in real quick,” she says, referring to the “38” code which signals a gas up.
“Are you serious?” asks Brian, perhaps out of concern for timing.
“You all take your time planning the hunt,” laughs Montoya. “And who’s gonna wear what.” Montoya then waves to Officer Brian as she pulls away out of the Santa Fe Police Department’s parking lot.
After only three years on the force Officer Montoya knows the lingo and knows how to go with the flow. That’s 29-year-old Officer Erica Montoya. In conversation with a fellow officer, Montoya clarifies the first call on duty. The shift she’s on goes from six PM to two AM, which she calls “the eights” referring to the number of hours on duty.
Her first call of the night isn’t a robbery or potential stand off, but a domestic dispute. An eviction notice and restraining order needs to be served to a woman living in her ex-husband’s house.
“Some people… They just don’t let go,” says Montoya. “We have quite a bit of those, and they end up stalking the victims… They just don’t let go.” According to Montoya, domestic situations are usually the most violent.
After twenty minutes of knocking at the door of the residence and requesting the woman to answer, Montoya figures the woman is either not in the house or not answering the door, in which case Montoya and her partner don’t have a search warrant to pursue the eviction or restraining order further for the time being.
Montoya is one of two women serving on the force in the Santa Fe Police Department. To some of her fellow male officers that’s a lot of women to have around. “[I’m] kinda used to working with the guys now. It’s interesting to see,” she says. “I just get a lot of a guy’s perspective, and that’s interesting to me. It kinda balances out.”
Montoya says they mostly talk about “hunting and sports, and just stuff I have no idea about,” but this doesn’t stop Montoya from joining in on the jokes and general camaraderie. Overall she says she feels like an important part of the team, a cohesive unit. “We have to be more like a group. We have to depend on each other, you know, for our lives… It makes a difference if you like the people you work with… We have a good team.”
The second call of the night is a woman who’s reported her ex-husband threatening to kill her. After arriving at the woman’s home and interviewing her, Montoya and her partner immediately begin processing the woman’s report. The ex-husband’s threats and actions against the woman have raised enough alarm for Montoya to not only contact the District Attorney, but to also have the report signed off by a Judge to put a warrant out for the ex-husband’s arrest. The woman reports her ex-husband held her in broad daylight, against her will, for twenty minutes whispering threats against her life, her new husband, as well as her children’s lives. The incident was reported to have taken place at a meeting point for the ex-husband’s visitation secession.
According to Montoya, a majority of domestic violence calls are issued by women. Montoya also feels that many incidences go unreported for both men and women. In the case of this call, Montoya seems relieved. Not only by the fact that the incident was reported, but that she and her partner were able to turn the paperwork around so quickly, and move on to the next call.
Montoya takes the position as a first responding officer very seriously and reflects on the possibility of serving a full carrier, usually twenty to twenty three years.
“I’ll probably retire when I’m 48… I’ve been thinking I’ll eventually go for my masters, probably in criminal justice or psychology… and then going into teaching college courses.” Either way, the x factor is prevalent.
Officer Lisa Minarczyk, a 29-year-old Chicago native, receives a call on her radio informing her of a robbery at the St. Francis Albertson’s on the South side. Someone has pulled a gun at the pharmacy, attempting to score prescription drugs.
“We’re not going,” Minarczyk says sliding her iPhone back into her pocket and turning North on St. Francis. Instead, dispatch sends her to a home burglary.
Minarczyk’s cruiser pulls up to the single story home on Avenida De Campana at 6:15 p.m. where she is greeted by homeowner Carol Brickler, a school teacher at Turquoise Trail.
Brickler has lived in the home for fifteen years without ever being victimized by crime. The residential area sits between Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive, with homes tucked closely together, separated only by the occasional short fence or small clumps of juniper trees.
The screen on the large picture window of Brickler’s front room has been cut open and rolled back. Brickler quickly points out the sneaker prints in dirt. Minarczyk kneels down, squints at what appears to be nothing but dirt and pebbles and scribbles something on her note pad. Brickler then walks Officer Minarczyk through the home, explaining that she and her grand daughter live alone in the house. The safety of her granddaughter is her biggest concern.
Inside, the home is well kept. Apart from the cut screen curled up, there is no evidence of a robbery. “Look here.” Brickler points to a flat screen TV hanging on the living room wall. “I mean, they didn’t of take this? Or all those over there.” She shuffles over to a large cabinet and points out a small stack of antique china.
“Okay, so what is missing?” Minarczyk asks and follows her into the bedroom where Brickler explains what happened: At 4:30, Brickier arrived home to find the screen of her window cut open and a handful of jewelry snagged from a large open jewelry box in her bedroom. The items, collectively estimated at around five hundred dollars, were mostly costume jewelry and some silver rings.
She pulls open several drawers that still spill over the brim with piles of metal, pointing out the absurdity of the thieves leaving most of her collection behind. After taking note of the items stolen Officer Minarczyk follows the routine of photographing the scene and dusting for fingerprints. She even takes several photos at the base of the window, none of which any shoe prints are detectable in.
Brickler follows closely, asking questions and pointing out all the jewelry left behind. “Look at this,” she says as she points to a large silver pendant on a chain, “this is Native, why wouldn’t they take this?”
Minarczyk is patient and polite, explaining that more often than not, it’s simply sloppy drug addicts, performing an in and out job and not usually knowledgeable of what to take. The most likely the reason the TV and china were not taken, Minarczyk says, is because the thieves were on foot. She reassures Brickler that the thief or thieves were not likely to return.
Carol Brickler’s neighbors haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary this afternoon. When Minarczyk asks about any suspicious characters seen around the neighborhood lately, Brickler comments on the sketchy looking strangers that sometimes hang around the corner. “Sometimes they’re just there, I don’t really know what they’re doing besides standing around.”
While she packs up the car, Minarczyk sighs and shakes her head a little. “It’s unfortunate ”˜cause we really can’t do much for the homeowners,” she says as she puts the camera and fingerprint kit into the back of her car and slams the trunk closed. “The burglars usually try to pawn whatever jewelry they grab. Even when we do arrest them, they’re out the next day.”
Back inside, Minarczyk clicks her pen and slides her notepad into her pocket, glancing around one last time. She asks if there is anything else Brickler might remember, wrapping up the routine of a burglary visit.
“Oh yeah,” Brickler says, raising a hand, alarmed by something she has overlooked. “My cat is gone too. He must have run out the door whenever they left.” She sighs and looks down, mentioning how upset her granddaughter will be when she hears the news.
Officer Minarczyk’s expression is lost, as she reaches for the notepad again, taking down the time the animal went missing. She thinks for a moment, before suggesting Brickler contact animal control. “I know my neighbors saw him. They said their dog barked at him.”
There is a phone book open on the counter, but Brickler still asks for the name or the number of a place Minarczyk thinks will be open.
“Well, if he’s hurt he might be at the emergency vet, you could try that.” Minarczyk shrugs a little, looking down towards the yellow pages.
I look up a 24 hour vet clinic near Rodeo Road on my phone. Brickler writes the number down, thanks us and says goodnight.
Officer Richard Telles’ Ray Ban sunglasses glint, catching the evening sky pastel to orange, then purple. The call comes in from dispatch: a Hispanic male is threatening to commit suicide with an unknown weapon. The siren blares, radiating throughout the city’s branchy streets, and he speeds to the Las Palomas Apartments, close to St. Michaels Drive.
Upon officer Telles’ arrival to the scene, he finds another Santa Fe Police Department officer standing behind his patrol unit holding a bright orange shotgun in the complex’s empty parking lot. Black bold letters on the side of the shotgun read, “NON LETHAL” and he cocks the lever back with ease to load rubber shells into it. Another officer pulls into the apartment parking lot behind officer Telles. He gets out, and all three circle up. Tenants walk around the officers, and look at them as if they’re in their way.
The officers’ discussion is barely audible over the static chatter of the police radio. Each officer goes over a plan of action, and their hands gesture their movement: low, direct, and in single file. Officers draw their Glocks and check their chambers in the parking lot””for fear that the individual will use the unknown weapon on the officers. Night blankets Santa Fe. Silence falls around the complex.
A handful of kids run across the parking lot hiding behind cars, curious about what is happening. The early night brings a drop in temperature, and the supervisor of Las Palomas Apartments arrives at the scene with a thick jacket, waiting to question the officers when they finish their job. The officers crouch between cars, disappearing, then into the complex in a single file. A mother and her kids walk on cracking sidewalks aligned in adjacent patterns. She yells at her kids to not leave school early the next day. Hedges, neatly pruned, conceal trash left on the gravel landscape. Another tenant, a man, walks his collie around the cars the officers disappeared behind, never minding the patrol units.
For ten minutes, cars sparingly park in their spaces and go about their night as Telles and the other two officers enter the apartment, lethal and non-lethal weapons at the ready, only to find the suicidal subject gone. A cool breeze keeps the supervisor’s arms folded in her jacket, and a loud tenant’s television blares a nightly show. Then, the officers return to their patrol units relieved. “He left before we got there,” says Officer Telles. “I’m sure he’s okay, but we’ll have to keep an eye out for him to ensure his safety.”
The supervisor in the thick jacket suggests she call the subject. All officers agree. She dials his phone number and begins to talk with the subject. While on the phone, she covers it and whispers to the officers that he sounds intoxicated. However, while the man is assumed to be drunk, finding his location is another matter, and officer Telles can do nothing further.
All of them slouch their shoulders, exhausted, and the officer with the shotgun slowly puts it away in the trunk of his car. Officer Telles leaves the Las Palomas complex concerned with the subject’s health and quickly looks for a mid twenty-early thirty, male, drunk or suspicious.
“Good thing about the city is that you can use the streetlights to your advantage,” he says, but every alleyway is draped with night.
The subject is never found, leaving his fate unknown. “The city brings new situations to you,” says Telles, as he shines his spotter in alleyways and behind empty buildings, “It’s just like life, you adjust, and overcome adversities. Be strong, and have faith.”
(Officer “Santos” is a pseudonym. His name has been changed at his request)
“People hate us until they need us, then we are either the judge & jury or we are their saviors,” says Officer Santos. “I can’t remember when officers were respected, appreciated and honored for their service to the people, both criminal and civilian.”
Life in Santa Fe is full of tourists and excitement during the day, but at night, life can become cruel and lawless. Officer Santos, receives his first call around 9:15 pm, “South Santos respond,” crackled the radio.
“This is Santos.”
“Minor Adam reported by Walgreen’s Rodeo looking in windows. Behavior suspicious.”
“En route,” says Santos as he hits the lights of his squad car.
The speed limit is 45 on most main streets in Santa Fe, but the officer pushes his speed a little over 50 and ignores two stop lights on his way to the possible incident. Even though this isn’t an emergency, Santos uses his status as peacekeeper to do what he wants.
At the scene, there’s a young man and woman casing the parking lot: one, the look-out-gal; the other, the robber. Santos stops the two, but he makes sure to let them know he’s watching them. The officer tells them to leave and as the youths walk away: both spitting at his car, both flipping him off and both mouthing “FFFfffffuuuck YOuuuuuu.”
“These two were probably trying to break into cars to see what they could get,” says Santos. “It doesn’t seem like it, but the biggest problem we have here in Santa Fe is heroin. Our kids are just lost in the line.”
The second call comes from a man who wants his engagement ring back from his ex-fiancé, who has refused to give it up. In the midst of trying to get both stories without taking either side, the woman cusses the officer out and the man spits on him. Very calmly, Officer Santos tells the man to calm down and act like a grown-up or be taken to jail for disorderly conduct.
“I am so sorry officer shit-head,” says the man. “Fuck you very much for nothing,” and walks angrily back into his house.
“I SWEAR to God, some days it just makes you SO angry that you have to be calm and stay WAY cool when you wanna just kick the shit outta someone, ya know?” says Santos while getting alcohol wipes out of his trunk and wiping off his shirt.
As the night grows longer and colder, Officer Santos arrests a man for beating his son. “I guess I shouldna been drinkin’ with my son, but he shuldna kissed my girlfriend,” says the man. “Culda broke both their necks, but I need one of them in my bed, haha, YA, one of ’em.”
After booking, Santos takes the inebriated man into the holding cell area. The man slurs to Officer Santos, “Yer an asshole and I’m gonna SEE you on the outside.”
“Sounds good buddy,” smirks Santos. “I’ll buy you an ice cream cone when you get out then.”
Trust is given to these men in blue because of the prestige that goes with the badge. But what if, one day, one man, one woman or one juvenile spits on him? Will it be the last time?
With her dark hair pulled back into a ponytail and a fair complexion, 29-year-old Erika Montoya, is pretty, polite and soft-spoken. She does not fit the stereotypical version of a woman police officer from gritty television shows.
A call goes out to all units on a missing two year old across town. Suddenly, the lights and sirens go on and Officer Montoya makes a fast U-turn in the middle of Agua Fria. Startled drivers, and some paranoid ones, swiftly and awkwardly get out of her way.
For half a mile or so, she is doing 55 to 60 miles per hour down the street until the dispatcher relays the good news that the tot has been found ”” he’d followed some older kids to a near-by park. She calms her patrol car back down to the 35 mile speed limit, which she admits she has trouble doing after such an adrenaline rush.
Officer Montoya is a peace officer who only wants to be of service and not see anyone hurt, especially children. She knows of one incident where a child who wandered away was run over by an elderly driver who didn’t even stop, maybe not knowing he had just hit and killed a child.
She cruises through downtown neighborhoods, which she likes to do, “cause you never know when you might see something going down.” On this dusky evening there are only people out walking their dogs. Officer Montoya dutifully waves to.
On a slow ride past the plaza, a guy on a 10-speed waves her down to get her attention. Officer Montoya rolls down her window and he tells her that there’s an alarm going off at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum. She heads over and parks in front of Cathedral Park, right across from the museum, and goes to investigate.
A side alarm on the building is going off, and she enters the building with her weapon drawn. Montoya has, luckily, never had her life threatened in any way. However, she does have to draw her gun often, as when entering a suspicious home or building. It’s how officers are taught.
After a thorough search, nothing appears out of the ordinary. Maybe someone has simply let them selves out and didn’t secure the door properly. Yet two hours go by before Institute of American Indian Arts security arrives to secure it.
Besides the occasional monotony of the job, Montoya has never had to deal with things as horrific serial killers, but during her police training, to get an insight into the psychological mind of serial killers, she had to view photos of Ray Parker’s “toy box”””the grisly, Elephant Butte, murder scene where Parker imprisoned countless women on separate occasions””torturing and killing them. She says she still can’t get over how gruesome the photos were and the unbelievable cruelty evident in the images.
Montoya works off job stress by jogging with some of her fellow officers. But for some police, the stress becomes too much. In her career, Montoya has known of two officers who have committed suicide: one man, one woman. Officer Montoya knew the woman better than the male officer.
“Upon retirement, an officer is given a choice whether to have all units accompany them on a ”˜last ride’ home with their lights and sirens flashing, and other officers directing traffic,” says Montoya. “Most officers take advantage of this honor and to say goodbye to their fellow officers and friends, but she declined it. Then a few months later she mysteriously took her life with her service weapon, and no letter or explanation of any kind.
Montoya momentarily looks out her side window, “at times, you wonder if it was something you might’ve said, or if there if there was something you could’ve done?” she says. “It will only make or break you.”