KIRTLAND — Law enforcement officials said moving the training authority to the "Safety City" facility in Kirtland three years ago has allowed local agencies to better train their officers without increasing the authority's budget.
The San Juan County Criminal Justice Training Authority moved from San Juan College to Safety City on County Road 6480, in January 2010. Since then, the program has expanded from a police academy and now offers advanced training courses that have not been available in the Four Corners region, said Farmington police Sgt. Dale Bode, the training authority director.
But during that transition the training authority's budget hasn't changed, Bode said.
Farmington, Bloomfield, Aztec and San Juan County provide staff and funding for the county-wide criminal justice training authority, which has a nearly $150,000 annual budget. Farmington and the county provide the authority with $65,956 each and Bloomfield and Aztec pay $8,994 each, Bode said.
Before the switch to Safety City, that money was spent on police academies. The training authority offered two academy courses per year.
Since 2010, the training authority has continued to offer the same academy course. But it has also started offering local advanced training courses at Safety City.
Safety City is a 44-acre law enforcement training facility in Kirtland. The complex is more than 15-years old, but it didn't become one of three criminal justice training authorities in New Mexico until 2010. It has classrooms, a police-canine training facility, a driving track, a rifle range, two pistol ranges, a "360-degree" range, two "simunition" training areas, which provide simulated crime-based scenarios for officers, two obstacle courses and an explosive storage and disposal area.
Prior to 2010, local law enforcement agencies would send officers across the country to find specialized training instead of bringing those courses to Safety City, said San Juan County Sheriff's Office Capt. Brice Current.
That meant agencies were spending more money to train fewer officers than they now are, he said.
"The more money (a law enforcement agency) spends on training, in the long run, means less money spent on litigation ... And (having the training authority at Safety City) is a lot more efficient way to train," Current said. "Officers have to be trained. Every day they are dealing with the most complicated parts of the Constitution, the fourth, fifth and sixth amendments, and they have to be sharp and the only way to do that is to be well trained."
Those amendments protect people from unreasonable searches and give them rights to a fair trial.
In each of the last two fiscal years, about 150 current law enforcement officers took an advanced training course at Safety City, Bode said. The officers completed 12,500 advanced training hours in the 2011/2012 fiscal year and 12,184 advanced training hours in the 2012/2013 fiscal year, he said.
"We found that we could stretch our dollar further by offering the training here," Bode said. "We have the exact same budget four years ago as we do now."
Bode said brining training to Safety City instead of sending officers elsewhere to train is not only cheaper, but it allowed more officers from local agencies to attend. Other law enforcement agencies from New Mexico and Colorado will also send their officers to the training, which becomes a source of revenue for the training authority, Bode said.
"It provides better trained officers but it also provides more uniformity," Bode said. "Instead of one person being an expert in something you have 20 people who are an expert and your investigations across the county are going to be handled the same way. ... In law enforcement uniformity is important. It's the difference between winning a case and losing a case."
Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.