The officers of the New Mexico Highlands University police and security department have carried through on their threat, voting no-confidence in Chief Donato Sena last week.
Eight people were eligible to vote, and six of them voted no-confidence while the two others didn’t vote. The officers are also in the process of forming a union.
“Since the chief has seen fit to continue to ignore the concerns of the officers, and since the administration refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the officers’ concerns, it has become necessary for the officers of the NMHU Police/Security Department to continue in its attempt to bring these concerns to light,” officers wrote in a statement announcing that the no-confidence vote would be held.
“As a result of the chief’s determination to continue his policy of retaliation, instead of seeking to reconcile with the officers, and since the department has lost two good officers because of these divisive policies, to the detriment of the department, it has become necessary for the officers of the NMHU Police/Security Department to take the following step: A vote of no confidence in the chief.”
A copy of the statement was provided to the university’s human resources office.
Both Sena and university spokesman Sean Weaver declined to comment about the situation, although Weaver did say that the human resources office is looking into the matter.
One of the officers recently terminated from the Highlands police force, meanwhile, is speaking out. William Cruz, who retired from the Las Vegas Police Department after 20 years and even served as the LVPD’s interim chief briefly, said he was fired from the Highlands police department last month just days before his probationary period expired. Cruz said he worked for the Highlands police force just shy of one year and was told the university didn’t have to give a reason for letting him go.
Among the concerns that have been raised by officers is that they are expected to check the campuses 43 buildings every day and that the chief’s expectation that it can be done in 3-1/2 hours is unrealistic. They also have complained that officers have been given written reprimands for failure to follow departmental policies. They have said that what they are being required to do is unrealistic and is jeopardizing the security of the campus.
“The focus is more on securing empty buildings than it is actual patrolling and a proactive approach to law enforcement,” Cruz said. He said officers are afraid of losing their jobs if they speak out individually, so they’re voicing their concerns collectively through the no-confidence vote and correspondence to the university administration.
“They can’t say anything to HR or to anybody because there are always some kind of consequences,” he said. “... They need their jobs.”
Cruz said that among the concerns he had as an officer was that there were times when shifts were left with no dispatchers. He said there aren’t enough dispatchers, and when one calls in sick, it causes problems.
He said that among the other concerns he raised was that, until recently, the university didn’t have a way of securing evidence, which created chain of custody issues, potentially jeopardizing criminal cases.
Cruz said one of the most egregious incidents he witnessed was a suicidal person being left alone. He said that when he started one of his shifts he was advised that the department was dealing with a suicidal person.
Cruz said he asked where the suicidal person was and was told he was in his room alone.
“You can’t do that. You can’t leave someone who is asking for help like that alone,” he said. “That really bothered me.”
Cruz said the man eventually got the help he needed, but the outcome could have been much different given that he was left alone.
“I don’t know if they just really don’t know what they’re doing or they don’t care what they’re doing,” Cruz said. “All they care about is securing the premises.”
Cruz said some students have raised concerns to him about their safety on campus and some even told him they were planning to leave the university because of the situation.