Commentary: Farmington police chief says police are under fire like never before

Steve Hebbe
Farmington Chief of Police

Since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last summer, police departments across the country have been under intense scrutiny.  Restricting qualified immunity, prohibiting specific use of force techniques, and other well-intentioned ideas are being offered in an effort to reform police.  

Several bills already introduced are making their way through our Legislature, many of which are designed to curb bad actors, hold bad officers accountable, or stop police violence.  

While there is no argument that police departments nationwide need to improve, some proponents of reform have turned what should be a team effort into a one-sided attack on our police officers.  

This was never more obvious for me than during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on House Bill 4, a bill that excludes qualified immunity for government employees, though notably retains immunities for both the legislature and the judiciary!!  

Nearly two hours into the hearing, one name had yet to be mentioned – Darian Jarrott.  

Farmington Police Department Chief Steve Hebbe

Four days earlier, Officer Jarrott had been shot and killed in the line of duty by a dangerous criminal. Yet, we listened to speaker after speaker decry the ills of systemic police violence. Not one mentioned the loss of Officer Jarrott, who had less than one week earlier given his life to protect his fellow citizens.  

Officer Jarrott’s peers now have a front-row seat to dangerous rhetoric that maligns law enforcement officers, takes away tools for their safety and attributes their worst elements to the whole. 

In January, one suspect heaved Molotov cocktails at Farmington police. In February, it is now vitriol that is thrown our way.  It should be no surprise that our officers feel depressed, demoralized, and confused.  And all the while, we’ve yet to see meaningful work to reform policing.

In my 30 years in law enforcement, the last seven of which I’ve served as Chief of Police in Farmington, I have never seen the degree of resentment I see today.  

Now is the time to invest in ways that will create better policing, and those changes need to reflect an understanding of the dangers our young officers walk into every day. I work closely with those officers, and they consistently do their best to protect the communities they serve.

Rather than involving law enforcement leadership to develop modern reform, we are told that legislators know best when it comes to fixing policing. We would not try and improve teaching without involving teachers and administrators. We would not try and improve medical care without doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators. Yet, police leadership is not involved in the current reform movement in the Legislature.  

What’s more disconcerting is that we’ve already told legislators how to resolve this problem: hire the best officers, train our officers using best practices, modernize policing policies and procedures, and hold bad actors accountable.  I’ve said this every chance

I’ve had, and I’ll continue to do so until our laws reflect the change we need.

Our men and women in blue are not the enemy. Our political climate may leave us divided, but that makes good policing all the more essential to ensure we get through these trying times together. We just need our leaders to share our goals.

Steve Hebbe is the police chief of Farmington, New Mexico.