SOCORRO, N.M., Jan. 19, 2000 -- With his extensive background in university law enforcement at New Mexico Tech, Magdalena native Louis "Louie" Latasa seemed the natural choice to be put in charge of the university's campus police department, once longtime director Tom Zimmerman retired from the post last year.
And, naturally, he was.
In his 15-year law enforcement career with Tech Campus Police, Latasa has moved up the ranks of the university police force, and, now, as director, essentially serves as New Mexico Tech's "campus police chief."
Before joining up with Tech's campus police department, Latasa was the chief of police for the Village of Magdalena for five years, and prior to that, he served a two-year stint as Magdalena's municipal judge.
"However, I wouldn't trade my experiences in campus law enforcement for any other aspect--positive as they were--of the other positions I've held in regular law enforcement fields," Latasa says.
"I enjoyed working in the other positions I've held, but it's sure tough being a cop in your own hometown. . . . Without really putting down anyone I've ever had the pleasure of working with before, I'd have to say that I now work with a more intellectual group than I ever have before," he maintains.
"I just wouldn't trade my job here at Tech for anything else," Latasa says, "and that's mostly because of the caliber of people I serve, protect, and work with."
As director of Tech campus police, Latasa supervises a department which includes nine certified police officers, two security officers, four dispatchers, and four student employees.
In addition to patrolling New Mexico Tech's main campus, Latasa and his officers are responsible for providing security for the Tech Research Park and the immense area that encompasses the university's Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC) field sites and testing ranges, which adds another 35-square miles to their daily "beats."
"My troops are an excellent bunch," Latasa relates. "Without them, I couldn't even begin to do my job. . . . I have only the highest respect for my people."
Latasa says he gives the sergeants who serve under him a tremendous amount of leeway when it comes to overseeing all of his patrolmen's duties and assignments.
"I pretty much let the sergeants run their own affairs when it comes to managing the officers," he says, "since they're the ones who are most familiar with what has to be done on a regular basis during their shifts. . . . If anything, I hope that I'm providing most of my leadership by example."
One of Latasa's immediate priorities is to add a few female officers to the all-male ranks of officers who work under his supervision.
"Since New Mexico Tech is a co-ed school, I'd like to have at least one female officer on our staff who would be available to respond to the specific needs that our women students might
have," he explains.
In addition, Latasa says he plans on soon implementing campus-wide bicycle patrols, with officers patrolling the Tech campus on mountain bikes equipped with emergency lights and police radios.
"In today's society, you have to be very visible," Latasa says. "And, with bike patrols, my officers will be out around campus talking with students and faculty on an everyday basis."
Latasa also points out that, once a new Student Union Building is built at the university, Tech administrators have deemed the campus police department will have a sub-station in the new facility, which also will work toward making police officers more readily available to the campus community.
"I've got to extend thanks to the Tech administration for all the support they've given to campus police," Latasa adds. "Without their backing, we wouldn't be able to perform all our duties."
Latasa, who is also a certified firearms instructor, is an advocate of continuing education and, as such, continually encourages his officers and dispatchers to pursue advanced training seminars and classes at the State Police Academy or at its satellite training sites.
"I plan on sending five or six of my people to Instructor Development School," Latasa reveals, "so that each officer will be specialized in a certain field--such as crime scene investigation or accident reconstruction--enough so that we can do our own in-house training . . . and end up saving a lot of money in the long run."
Latasa admits he enjoys "being out in the field" as part of his workday more so than "being in the office."
"I like being out around campus talking with all the different people, getting a feel for what their needs are and how our department can help them," Latasa explains.
"We're not just about patrolling," he adds. "We're here for students, faculty, and staff and are always available for whatever they might need us for--whether it be a ride downtown or an emergency trip to the hospital or doctor's office.
"In law enforcement, you've got to always be on a one-to-one basis with the people you serve," Latasa asserts. "That's something that the previous campus police director, Tom Zimmerman, always stressed to his officers, and it's something I'll always stress to those who work under me."
Latasa adds that he always will be indebted to his predecessor for having instilled confidence in him and for having helped him out throughout the years.
"If Tom hadn't said 'Yes,' to hiring me all those years ago, I wouldn't be in the position I'm in now," Latasa notes.
When he's not serving as director of Tech campus police, Latasa says he spends most of his time with his children and grandchildren.
He also says he enjoys singing in his church choir and working around his yard when he's back home in Magdalena.