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Snyder looks back on time in law enforcement

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Chaves County Deputy Charles Drake, left, looks on as Sheriff Britt Snyder prepares to present him an award on Oct. 17 at the Honor The Badge Ceremony in the Chaves County Administration Building. Snyder will retire from law enforcement Dec. 31 when his term as county sheriff ends. (Alex Ross Photo)

After three decades in law enforcement, Chaves County Sheriff Britt Snyder will soon stop wearing a gun and badge to work.

Snyder will retire from law enforcement when his term ends Dec. 31, ending a career in law enforcement that has spanned 32 years, including 29 with the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s hard to believe it is 29 years,” Snyder said in a Dec. 11 interview.

He looked forward to a second four-year term, but was defeated by Mike Herrington in the June Republican primary.

Rather than a tan uniform, Snyder now wears a collared shirt and blue jeans at the office, with his badge and gun on his waist. The change in wardrobe is a way to start the process of leaving behind the job, Snyder said, and is something his wife Jean, a licensed clinical social worker, has helped him do.

From Reserve to Chaves County

Snyder was born and raised in Reserve, a small city in heavily rural Catron County in western New Mexico.

“I have a lot of good friends there, a lot of family for that matter, good place,” he said.

After he graduated from high school in 1982, Snyder decided to join the Catron County Sheriff’s office, where he worked first as a deputy and later an undersheriff.

Snyder said it was one of the few job opportunities in Reserve at the time and seemed like an honorable profession.

“I thought it was a great honor to get to serve — I still do,” he said.

He remembers his first arrest as a young deputy.

A man crashed a vehicle, fled the scene and went into a local bar. Snyder later found the man — intoxicated and eager to fight — and placed him under arrest.

Although he knew the county well, Snyder said being a deputy in a small community where you have lived all your life is not easy.

“They know you, they have known you your whole life, and you have known them their whole life too, so that makes it hard,” Snyder said.

He made an unsuccessful run for Catron County Sheriff when he was in his 20s. After his loss in the Republican primary, and two years and eights months with the Catron County Sheriff’s office, he quit.

For about 11 months, Snyder worked for his father-in-law as a the head of a brush lopping crew, but soon had a hankering to return to law enforcement.

He eventually heard from a former colleague in Catron County that Chaves County was looking to hire deputies.

Though he did not know anyone in Chaves County at the time, Snyder decided to apply and moved out of Catron County.

“I left there and I never looked back,” Snyder said.

Challenges

The public does not understand what law enforcement officers experience on the job.

“The adrenaline ups and downs you go through in this job are unbelievable,” Snyder said.

Snyder said he and another deputy once responded to a domestic violence call, and when they reached the scene several baby deer were in the front yard.

Snyder wondered if they were at the right house.

A man then emerged from the house armed with a shotgun aimed at Snyder and his fellow deputy.

“So we go from petting deer, to someone trying to kill us,” he said.

Because of the risks inherent in the job, people in law enforcement must be on a higher state of alert than the average citizen, Snyder said.

“Every time you interact with somebody, every time you stop a car, you have to wonder whether or not this is the person that is going to try to shoot you today,” he said.

In addition to the harm that could be done to them, officers and deputies have to witness terrible things done to other people.

For Snyder, the worst incident he had to investigate was a 4-year-old girl who was stomped to death by a horse.

Officers and deputies must deal every day with the memories of what they see on the job.

When the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office hires a deputy, they also, in a sense, hire that deputy’s spouse and children, he said.

“Your family has to realize that you might not come home today,” he said.

Snyder said he once had to wake up the wife of a deputy in the middle of the night, after the man got hit by a drunk driver while on duty.

A person in law enforcement needs to work as hard at maintaining a stable and happy home life as they do on their duties at work, Snyder said.

“You have to make time for your family, you have to make it a point to be with your family — when you are with your family, your mind isn’t off at work,” he said.

Despite the hardships, the dangers and worries also bind together law enforcement officers and their families.

“We support each other because we are the only ones who understand what it is like to be in law enforcement and how that affects our families,” Snyder said.

Changes

Law enforcement has undergone some changes since Snyder entered the field in the 1980s.

Snyder said when he first entered law enforcement “they just gave me a gun, a badge and turned me loose.

“That was quite surprising, it was like ‘is there some training that goes along with this?’ What am I supposed to do?’” he said with laughter.

Deputies today must undergo much more training and supervision and are restricted as to what duties they can perform until they become certified.

The Sheriff’s office now has one deputy who is not certified, who works at the Chaves County Courthouse under the direct supervision of six or seven certified deputies.

Other changes, Snyder said, include advances in DNA evidence, use of body cameras and the amount of evidence collected on cell phones.

With that new technology and training have come other changes — some have made the job harder.

Snyder said people don’t seem to trust law enforcement as much as they used to.

For a convincing case to be made against a criminal, a law enforcement officer’s word no longer carries as much weight.

In a high-tech age, people now also want DNA, video footage and other evidence to corroborate what an officer says.

“My word is no longer good enough. That for me, as someone who has been in law enforcement as often as I have, that is really hard on me,” Snyder said.

He added sometimes people in law enforcement feel like they are the ones on trial and not the criminals.

Nonetheless, younger deputies have embraced body cameras and use them.

Snyder said he hopes the next administration continues to encourage the use of body cameras. He said when deputies have video footage to back them up, deputies have to spend less time in court.

Time as sheriff

Snyder ran for Chaves County Sheriff in 2014 because he said that he cared about the future of the department.

He said one of the things he is most proud of on his watch is a big drop in property crimes — burglary, larceny or vandalism.

Although 2018 numbers are not yet available, he said comparing data from 2015 and 2017, burglaries fell 42 percent and larcenies 41 percent.

He said much of the fall in property crimes can be attributed to better relations with the public and efforts to educate them about the situation.

Snyder said he also constantly hears positive comments from the public about how deputies interact with them, something he said has improved while he has been sheriff.

Deputies are now showing up more often for hearings in court on the arrests they make and citations they write.

Snyder said he does not know what he plans to do for work after Dec. 31, but that he still admires those who work in law enforcement, and looks fondly on his time in law enforcement, particularly in Chaves County.

“I really enjoyed it, I certainly enjoyed the last 29 years here,” Snyder said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.