SOCORRO, N.M., March 17, 1999 -- Tom Zimmerman, longtime director of Campus Police at New Mexico Tech, will be handing over the reins of office come April 30.
Zimmerman, who started at Tech on Jan. 1, 1975, is retiring after 24 years and four months. He came to New Mexico Tech during a very different era and has seen -- and presided over -- some important changes.
"I was asked to be head of campus security by (then Tech president) Stirling Colgate," he recalls. "I was approaching the end of the two terms I served as Socorro County Sheriff, and in those days, two terms was the limit." So Zimmerman, who is a graduate of the national FBI Academy, decided to give campus law enforcement a try.
"When I came, the department was not a police department; it was a security department," Zimmerman recalls. "The six security officers did things like unlock doors for people. We had no vehicles or radios. My first office was a broom closet in the basement of the Speare Building, which was the library then. When we were needed, we were summoned by a light on top of Workman Center."
Zimmerman set about making changes. "Whenever I got a chance to hire someone," he says, "I would hire a certified police officer. When I had several on board, I requested the administration to ask the Board of Regents to approve making us an official police department. That happened, and the state authorized us as an official police department in 1981."
Zimmerman stated that there are several differences between a security department and a police force. "Certified police officers have to undergo a 16-week training program. They can write citations, make arrests, and investigate charges."
Zimmerman is pleased at the professionalism of today's Tech campus police force. "We have 13 sworn police officers. We have certified dispatchers and 24-hour communications. On major crimes, such as felonies, we have about an 85 percent arrest and resolution rate. We patrol the EMRTC area as well as the main campus. In addition to police and security functions, we have federal regulations we have to comply with, such as dealing with storage of classified materials and papers.
"The potential for danger is there every time you check a building," Zimmerman continues. "That's why our officers are armed. We have an in-house certified instructor in firearms, and all our officers have up-to-date training. We always hope they never have to use firearms, but since they carry them, they must be trained in the proper use of them."
Although the Tech campus tends to be peaceful, dangerous incidents can occur. Tom recalls an occasion on which a student broke into the Golf Pro Shop. "I happened to see him coming out of the window, and I caught him in my arms. He escaped from me, and I chased him across the golf course. I tried to grab his foot, but I slipped and broke my shoulder. We were later able to arrest the individual in his dorm room. While he was in jail here in Socorro, we found out that he was wanted in California for killing a police officer there. He was sent back there, and as far as I know, he's still in prison."
But most incidents end on a more positive note than that. "I like university law enforcement," says Tom, "because of the element of society you deal with. You have the potential to turn someone who might be a bit of a hell-raiser around so they're a productive member of society. Tech students really want the education they can get here, and they will change their ways in order to stay in school and finish their degree. They can turn out to be a positive person in their community."
"I have liked dealing with university law," says Zimmerman. "The administration has been very pro-law-enforcement; their support has made my job easier to perform. Tech is a part of my life and a good part of it. This is like my extended family."
Zimmerman's plans for retirement include raising cattle, fishing, and perhaps some travel. "I'm a cowboy at heart," he says. "I have a little farm, and my kids are in the area, so I plan to stay. My wife, Sally Ann, and I may do some traveling in our RV. I know people from all over the nation, because I have belonged to the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) for many years. I've visited virtually every state in the nation, and there are a lot of them I want to go back to."
Zimmerman concludes, "People ask me what I'm going to do in my retirement, and I tell them that my biggest problem is that I'm going to miss my weekends!"