FARMINGTON — On Tuesday afternoon, Farmington Police Chief Kyle Westall had already turned in his badge and uniform in exchange for blue jeans and a polo.
Westall's last day as chief of police was Tuesday. He retired after 25 years with the department and almost three years as chief and said he has no plans of returning to law enforcement.
He said he won't miss the action that goes along with being the top law enforcement officer for the region's largest police force.
"Everyone says you'll miss the action, but I don't see it," he said. "Twenty five years is enough action for anyone."
Farmington police Capt. Dan Calkins took over New Year's Eve night as interim chief.
The city of Farmington is hiring a police chief. The city narrowed its search to nine semifinalist, and city officials have said they will select about five of those candidates for interviews with panels of city officials, a Navajo Nation representative and community members in mid-January before City Manager Rob Mayes makes the appointment.
Farmington police deputy chiefs Vincent Mitchell and Keith McPheeters are among the semifinalists being considered for chief of police. They are the only Farmington police officers who applied.
Westall was 23 years old when he became a patrol officer in Farmington.
His uncle had been a police chief in Ruidoso and Texas, and Westall decided early that he wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement.
"You are out there on your own, and you get to deal with different people and different situations every day. I'm not a person who would do well in a mundane type setting," he said. "When you're in the back of the SWAT van and you're on your way to serve a warrant, you know the person is armed in the house and isn't favorable to police, it takes a certain person who can do that. There has to be something slightly wrong with you."
During the course of his career, Westall worked on patrol as an officer and lieutenant. He trained Farmington officers and was involved in the building and growth of Safety City, the San Juan County police training facility in Kirtland. Westall also worked as captain overseeing detectives and the Region II Narcotics Task Force before he worked as a police administrator.
The biggest call of Westall's career came in May 1998 when Cortez police officer Dale Claxton was gunned down by three survivalists during a traffic stop. The suspects escaped after a gunfight with Montezuma County Sheriff's Office deputies.
Westall was on the Farmington police SWAT team, which was the only one in the region at the time. The team spent the better part of the next month in the middle of a massive manhunt for the men who became known as the Four Corners Fugitives. Farmington SWAT crossed into Utah and Colorado frequently as part of the search.
During his time as chief, Westall said police improved the department's in-car dash cameras, and all patrol officers recently started wearing lapel video cameras to record their actions. The department also purchased crime-mapping software so residents can monitor local crime trends online and created Facebook and Twitter accounts and email-based neighborhood watch programs to communicate directly with citizens.
Westall has said all of those initiatives increased transparency.
Westall said police and the chief position are highly scrutinized, and some people have criticized their work. But he said the vast majority of residents who approach him are complimentary of him and the police department.
"Monday mornings are the worst mornings because of everything that happened on the weekend, people call and complain to you. Sometimes, they call and you can't hold your phone to your ear," he said. "But most of the time, it's people calling to compliment the work. Either it's someone who was in a traffic accident and the officer treated them nicely, or they had a case and the detectives really did a good job with it, or their kids love some particular school resource officer. Most of the time it's that, and it's gratifying."
McPheeters, Mitchell and Calkins said that although the police officers may have varying opinions about the department's direction after Westall, they all said the public won't notice a change in police response during the department's transitions.
Farmington police officers "are certainly going to have angst because we all have questions as to what the future holds," McPheeters said. "But when it comes down to investigating the crime they just stumbled up to, they are going to do that job just as they did last week and will do next week."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.