K.C. Rogers has changed the face of criminal justice in New Mexico for the better over the course of three plus decades. Had he pursued his initial plans, New Mexico justice might be a bit worse off now.
“I grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas,” Rogers said. “My dad was with IBM and we had a lot of military in my family. My mother would make us go to shelters and other places and help people.”
Rogers decided he could serve best via the law. A mercurial moment with friends changed his plans, if not his destiny.
“I was supposed to go to the University of Texas and study business with the intent of going into law,” Rogers said. “I went out drinking beers with some buddies of mine and I ended up going to Europe.”
Those few months changed him.
“When I got back from Europe I realized I had changed,” Rogers said. “I had lived on my own and I had been places where I didn’t have two nickels to rub together. I slept in the woods and had a loaf of bread and a piece of cheese to last me a few days.”
He no longer fit in the world he had grown up in.
“When I got home I realized it wasn’t really home anymore,” he said. “It was time for me to move on. My parents had divorced and my mom was living in New Mexico.”
He got to try out a childhood dream.
“I came to New Mexico,” Rogers said. “I went to Columbus, down on the border. I wanted to work cattle. I had the childhood dreams of being a cowboy. I went down and did some of that and found out cowboyin’ is really hard work. I loved every minute of it and learned a lot.”
Rogers’ life took yet another turn.
“Some friends of the family approached me,” Rogers said, “and asked me if I’d ever considered joining the state police.”
Rogers has always stood up for the underdog. A painful memory helped him decide.
“A very good friend of mine had been murdered and raped on graduation night,” Rogers said. “That had an impact on me. A good portion of the fights I got into were defending other people. I didn’t like people bullying others, or pushing their girlfriends around. I got whipped a few times, but that was part of it.”
It also appealed to his ideal sense of the man he wanted to be.
“The state police looked good in their uniforms,” he said. “The old guys seemed to smile all the time. I guess when you’re a big ol’ boy and you can take care of yourself you can afford to smile all the time.”
So, before he was old enough to buy a beer to celebrate, he became a state cop.
“I was one of the youngest that they had ever had,” he said. “I had to get a note from my sergeant to buy bullets because the law doesn’t allow anyone under 21 to buy pistol ammunition. I wasn’t allowed to go into bars unless I was going in to break up a fight.”
He spent the first part of his first career chasing trouble in southwest New Mexico.
“They stationed me in Lordsburg.” Rogers said. “In those days Lordsburg had a small sheriff’s department and two state police officers. We had over 285 miles and six or seven little communities that were our responsibility. The phone book said NM State police but it had my home number in it.”
Lordsburg was kind to the busy, young officer.
“I met my wife in Lordsburg,” he said. “We’ve been married working on 36 years. She is the reason we’re still married. She put up with me. I did two years in uniform, then moved to Roswell and went into narcotics. I was here 45 minutes and made my first undercover transaction. From that time on I bought drugs for a living.”
His job was nothing, if not intense.
“We did the largest single cocaine purchase in the country at that time,” Rogers said. “I don’t think anybody’s ever broken that record. Through undercover work in one year I made 385 felony arrests. We bought drugs all the time.
“That’s why I give my wife credit. She never knew when I was coming home. She never knew how I was coming home. She said, ‘I never worried because I had so much faith in the people you work with.’”
After retiring from the state police, Rogers and a friend founded ASPEN, the Alternative Sentencing Program and Education Network, which teaches convicts how to make better choices. He had to give that up when he was appointed to his current position, his third career as magistrate judge.
“Gov. Martinez appointed me to this position,” Rogers said. “Then I had to run for it and win the seat. I’ll probably run one more time. I’m not done doing everything I want to do yet.”
Never tired of making things better, Rogers set to improving law enforcement from the bench as best he could.
“When I got this job I realized that things hadn’t changed in 35 years,” he said. “I had an officer call me and ask if they could bring a search warrant out to me at 1 o’clock in the morning.”
With technology where it’s come, he saw this as absurd.
“I initiated a program with Judge Halvorson doing warrants telephonically. The officer would email the warrant. We would swear them in over the phone. We would approve or disapprove the warrant over the phone and then email them back. Considering that I live outside of town, it saves an hour just driving out to my house and back.”
With all he’s lived through Rogers never lost sight of the importance of family, and his is a close knit one.
“We have two daughters,” he said. “My oldest daughter, Margaret Kennard, has a degree in sociology and criminal justice. She was a parole officer for a number of years. Now she works with her husband.
“My youngest daughter played basketball for Roswell High. Played college ball at Missouri Baptist University at St. Louis, got a degree in psychology with a background in criminal psychology and she’s a lieutenant at the county jail. My wife works upstairs at district court.”
Rogers believes in giving people a chance.
“I believe that most people are good,” he said. “They get off track. If we can get them back in line then good. If they can’t, then our system will keep functioning and eventually they’ll lose their freedom. I’ve lived long enough to know that a lot of people who live that lifestyle are dead now.
He learned how people make bad choices, and how to help them along the way.
“I learned from criminals and teaching ASPEN how much we have in common,” Rogers said. “If we treat each other right we can all make a difference, but if you’re not willing to change I’ve got a place to put you.”
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at email@example.com.