BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – A shortage of police officers is now affecting kids in one New Mexico town. This year, the Belen school district has had to do away with an important part of their security team.
Parents are concerned that without a school resource officer their children’s safety is a risk. “It concerns me in the fact that our kids aren’t being protected at school,” says Jamie Ford.
For the past six years, a Belen police officer has been assigned to the district and responds to needs across 11 campuses. “Usually, they’ll start off at Belen High School or Belen Middle School or Infinity High School. From there, depending on the needs in our district, they spend the day at several at our elementary schools or here at the main office,” says Superintendent Diane Vallejos.
But this year, the Belen Police Department was unable to supply an officer because of a shortage in the department. “We are a smaller agency. We are an agency that’s in the metro area, and we have to compete with larger agencies that offer better benefits,” says Police Chief Victor Rodriguez.
Right now, there are nine vacancies within the department. Parents say it’s unfortunate that their children’s safety is compromised because of the shortage. “The way situations are in the world today, especially here in the United States with incidents at school, a school resource officer is something that is priceless,” Ford says.
The district does have eight unarmed security guards patrolling the schools. Belen PD says officers can get there quickly if and when they get the call. “Our patrol officers are committed to responding to calls for service there will be no effect on our response to the school,” Chief Rodriguez says.
The district plans to work with Valencia and Socorro counties and State Police to figure out another option for a school resource officer. Belen police say they are working to boost their staffing and are testing 17 applicants this Saturday to fill some of those vacancies.