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Longtime NMSU police chief keeps campus, community safe and secure

Date: 01/11/2011

New Mexico State University graduate Jaime Chavez enjoyed his studies at NMSU so much that he chose to stay - for 29 years and counting.


Jaime Chavez

The Chief of the university's police department has been a part of the campus community for more than three decades, including his time as a student in the criminal justice program. Aside from a short stint as a firearms instructor in Santa Fe, he has devoted his entire professional career to the Aggie force.

Chavez was appointed interim police chief in 2004, and the interim label was removed in 2005. In addition to his work on campus, he also serves as the lead instructor for Innovative Defense Strategies, a handgun training company based in Mesilla Park, and is used as an expert witness, serving to clarify use of force issues in the courtroom and for prosecutors in review of force cases.

He has more than 27 years' training experience in the area of firearms training, defensive tactics and use of force, and that experience has benefited countless members of the NMSU community through programs like Fight Like a Girl, r.a.d. KIDS and pepper spray use.

All of this knowledge and training is crucial to law enforcement, and it may be easy to overlook the fact that maintaining law and order on a college campus is every bit as daunting as doing so in a town or city.

"It's an interesting contrast," said Chavez. "During a typical day in a full semester we have 29,000 people within a two square-mile area of campus, and we have 160 total square miles of jurisdiction total. That's a huge responsibility."

While deaths on campus are thankfully few, the force stays busy with just about every other non-fatal crime imaginable. In all, the past three years have seen reports of 228 burglaries, 47 motor vehicle thefts, 19 aggravated assaults, 15 rapes, six robberies, five arsons and one hate crime.

In accordance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, the NMSU Police Department is required annually to notifystudents and employees about crime statistics for the Las Cruces and Dona Ana Community College campuses. The 2010 report is accessible on the police department's Web site (http://www.nmsupolice.com/AnnualReports/2010AnnualReport.pdf). The Clery Act requires the report to list statistics for these seven specific criminal activities over a three-year period. A more comprehensive listing of crime and traffic incident statistics going back to 1989 may be found on the police department's website.

Preventing these and other crimes is obviously important, to a campus or city police department. But Chavez points out that there's an extra element involved in campus security.

"College campuses have the same types of crime that occur anywhere, but there's added attention when a violent crime, such a sexual assault, occurs," Chavez said. "A crime of that nature occurring in a city like Las Cruces may make the news, but when it happens on campus there's a lot of increased scrutiny. We've had 15 rapes reported on campus over the last three years, but there were 23 forcible rapes in the city in 2009 alone. But people consider a college campus a sanctuary; parents of students demand to know what we are going to do to prevent serious felonies and violent crime."

Part of what Chavez and his force do is encourage students - and faculty and staff - to help them through self-defense courses that the department administers. The women's self-defense classes Fight Like a Girl and Girls on Guard on wildly popular, as is r.a.d. KIDS, a self-empowerment program for children ages 5-11, and the regularly held pepper spray course, which teaches the legal parameters and proper use of pepper spray in self-defense. Each class has a long waiting list.

Chavez also has developed active shooter scenarios, wherein he enters administrative buildings and exposes occupants to simulated gunfire in order to train them in proper responses for survival. He has introduced students, government officials, faculty and administration to real-world dynamics of defensive shooting as well, thought a program called An Introduction to Deadly Force.

"We don't advocate or condone anyone taking the law into their own hands," Chavez said. "You must call the police if you're the victim of a crime or witnessing one. But we want you to be able to take care of yourself and neutralize the threat if you have to until law enforcement can arrive.

"Education is the key to safety," he continued. "Knowing your options and the tools at your disposal makes you a less likely crime target."

Chavez heads a department of 22 full-time officers, including one investigator, in addition to a standalone communications center and support staff, many of which also attended NMSU.

"We have a full-service police department at New Mexico State," said Chavez, when asked what he most wanted people to know about his department. "If you need assistance, call us; don't wonder - even if you're off-campus, we can get you the right help through the communications center. And remember no matter where you are that 911 is the emergency number to call - the right help will be routed your way."

Written by Mark Cramer.



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