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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Laguna Pueblo Public Safety Department as the November 2018 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo was taken during the law enforcement program’s new “Shop with a Cop” initiative and features Lieutenant Frances Flores with her new friend before embarking on the day’s activities.
The Laguna Pueblo Reservation is located on the Interstate 40 corridor, about 45 miles west of New Mexico’s biggest metropolitan area, Albuquerque. The 500,000 acre reservation is home to 3,000 tribal members who live in six villages across the area. The Laguna Pueblo Public Safety Department (PSD), in the village of Laguna, is responsible for protecting the reservation and its residents.
The sheer size of the reservation can make community policing difficult for the department. Police Chief Greg Toya says that “because we are spread out here, just the ability to consistently reach out with the community” can be a challenge.
To deal with the distances, each year the law enforcement program sets public safety and community policing goals for the reservation as a whole and for the individual villages. “Each village uniquely has its own needs and requirements for law enforcement,” says Chief Toya. The officers holds themselves accountable for achieving these objectives with “meetings either quarterly or biannually just to make sure we are on track with our goals and objectives.”
The officers also attend each of the six village’s biweekly meetings to better understand each village’s needs and to build relationships with the residents and tribal members. “We try not to rotate the officers at the various meetings,” explained Chief Toya. “We try to have the same representation so that [the officers] are able to form friendships, trust, and good communication skills.”
In the past four to five years, the Pueblo Laguna PSD has joined national initiatives such as Shop with a Cop and National Night Out. The PSD also has local community policing initiatives of their own, which incorporate the reservation’s Native American heritage. For example, both the Archery Program and the Junior Ranger Expo were launched to teach children about archery, hunting, and traditional harvesting of animals. The officers mentor the children through these programs, while the youth learn about survival skills in the wild, tribal customs, conservation practices, archery, firearm safety, and more. Lieutenant Flores says that these programs work here because they are “unique to Indian Country and to Laguna Pueblo” and appeal to the community’s individuality.
The winning photo contest image was taken during a “Shop with a Cop” event, which the Laguna Pueblo started in their community several years ago. The program has become so popular in the community that the event was rebranded to “Badges with Buddies” in order to include the entire Laguna Pueblo Public Safety Department. Each division in the department goes above and beyond to plan for this day in order to make it special for the children and their families.
The department works with social services and behavioral health departments to help select underprivileged families that would benefit most from the “Badges and Buddies” event. The officers are assigned a “buddy” to spend the day with—in the winning photo, Lieutenant Frances Flores is pictured with her buddy, Gracie. The day is filled with activities starting with an 8:30 AM pick up and escorted “siren” ride down the main road of the reservation, led by Santa on the fire truck. The department hosts a breakfast for the children and their families to familiarize the officers with the buddies, “because we know if the families are comfortable then the child will more likely to be comfortable,” Lieutenant Flores explained.
After breakfast, the officers and buddies travel to the Albuquerque Walmart for some holiday shopping followed by pizza. Lieutenant Flores said that the officers take the initiative to “meet with the family before [the day] to see what the child’s needs are as far as clothing, shoes, and jackets.” This way, the officer is able to provide the child with a necessary item in addition to their toy.
At the end of the day, the officers drop off their buddy with not only the gifts but also a Christmas dinner for each family. Lieutenant Flores recognized that “it’s a really long day, but a really rewarding day,” for both the officer and the buddy.
The enthusiasm surrounding these programs is undeniable and the results are seen through the relationships built in the community. Lieutenant Flores, who has worked for the Laguna Pueblo since 1998, says that “we are truly building relationships. Back in the day, when we would drive down and patrol the area—the kids would see the cop cars or officers and they would tend to run away or go back into the house, which was really unacceptable.” With these programs, she sees that the law enforcement department is making headway in “changing the perception of the mindset of the children [and their families].”
Written with contributions from Laguna Pueblo Public Safety Department’s Police Chief Greg Toya, Lieutenant Frances Flores and Shannon Stevens. Photo courtesy of Shannon Stevens of the Laguna Pueblo Public Safety Department.
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