Home News Local News Chief addresses use of force, RPD manpower during forum

Chief addresses use of force, RPD manpower during forum

In this November 2020 file photo, Roswell Police Chief Phil Smith speaks to the press about a joint effort between federal and local law enforcement agencies. Smith spoke during a July 15 public forum about how the RPD responds to calls, how well the department is staffed and how officers determine when use of deadly force is justified. (Alex Ross Photo)

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Despite having several openings for patrol officers, Roswell Police Chief Phil Smith said the department is in good shape.

Smith made the comments during a July 15 forum streamed online and hosted by Roswell City Manager Joe Neeb during which Smith and Roswell Fire Chief Matt Miller answered questions submitted by the public.

One of the questions submitted by the public and read by Neeb indicated that the person had called the RPD about a situation and was told no patrol units were available to respond.

The issue of a shortage of patrol officers was also mentioned in the RPD’s monthly report to the city.

Six positions are open in the RPD, Smith said. However, he added that about 20 recruits are undergoing training who cannot operate on the street alone until they have completed that training.

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“So the work is cut down to a smaller group of people on patrol,” he said.

He explained that calls into the department are prioritized.

“Any of your property crimes are going to wait over anything where someone is gonna be hurt, and that is just common sense,” he said.

During the forum, a question was also posed to Smith about how police shootings are considered justified. The question comes as the RPD has had two officer-involved shootings so far this year. 

Smith explained that use of deadly force is always a last resort and is deployed when either the life of an officer or of someone else is in jeopardy. But, he added, it also takes a toll on the officer.

“There is nothing more destructive to a police officer than if they have to engage in a life-threatening situation,” he said.

When a question was asked about what training is provided to police departments and sheriff’s offices regarding officer-involved shootings, Smith explained that police officers must go through 16 weeks of training in the police academy. They also must undergo field training before and after their time at the academy.

He said that, when it comes to use of force, officers and prospective officers are educated on the different levels of force a situation requires and how to de-escalate a situation before deadly force is employed.

Last year, the New Mexico Legislature passed a bill requiring that all law enforcement officers wear body cameras. Smith said the Roswell Police Department has been doing so since 2015, becoming the first department in the state to deploy body cameras regularly.

Smith also talked about his view that the media has sensationalized the issue of use of force, which has spurred a nationwide push for police reform in the wake of several highly publicized incidents last year.

He explained that those incidents represent a small percentage of the millions of interactions law enforcement have with the public every day.

“There is over a million interactions between police and the citizenry every day in this country,” Smith said, “and what do you look at? Five instance a year.”

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