BERNALILLO — The Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office is making public and deputy safety an even greater priority in its revised vehicle pursuit policy.

Capt. Allen Mills with the sheriff’s office told the Sandoval County Commission during Thursday’s meeting that the policy entails considering voluntary termination of a pursuit in situations where the danger posed to citizens and deputies outweighs the need to stop a fleeing suspect.

When Commissioner Michael Meek inquired whether commission approval was even necessary, Mills explained the sheriff’s office just wanted to play it safe by discussing the matter with the board — mainly needing the OK from them because of the legalities involved. Commissioners did unanimously OK the new policy.

Mills told the Observer the previous pursuit policy included high-speed and special-order pursuits.

He said special-order pursuits occur when certain protocols aren’t ready to be permanently added to the manual, and they usually have an expiration date.

Mills told the Observer that previous policy had deputies being vague, saying “I thought this, and I thought that” when describing information about a call.

“We’re trying to take that ‘I thought’ out of it. Either you have those facts, or you don’t,” he said.

Mills said if deputies cannot clearly articulate why they insist on continuing a pursuit, they must disengage.

“What we’re trying to get the deputies to do is slow down, think about why you’re chasing this person. Is it worth chasing this person? Does it meet the criteria of the policy to chase the person? I’m trying to drill into them that 99 out of 100 times, if something is assigned to a detective, the detective’s going to find out who (the suspects) were and what they were doing, and we can arrest them later safely without causing a danger to the public,” Mills told the Observer. “Pursuits are just inherently dangerous.”

Capt. Allen Mills of the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office talks to the County commissioners about the revised vehicle pursuit policy on Thursday, August 19, 2021, in Bernalillo.
(Matt Hollinshead/Observer)

Mills also told the Observer the new policy specifies a deputy can’t simply chase a stolen car or someone who burglarized a house when the suspect didn’t injure anyone. He also said pursuits involving murder or kidnapping suspects would be done on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether that pursuit is more dangerous than the individual or vice-versa.

Mills said once a deputy is forced to discontinue a pursuit, alternate methods would be used to locate that suspect vehicle.

For example, he said a Hummer crashed into a deputy’s vehicle in northwest Albuquerque, and a neighboring agency’s helicopter tailed it.

Hiring process changes OK’d
Mills said the sheriff’s office wants to hire more Sandoval County employees because of having a better grasp of that person’s temperament through information on file with the county.

“This will give us a leg up on what kind of individual we’re actually hiring,” he said.

He said an employee in another part of Sandoval County who wants to become a deputy would have to go through a law enforcement academy and complete six to 12 months of field training.

He also said the process will allow lateral hires, meaning a law-enforcement officer anywhere in the country can apply to the sheriff’s office without having to start over as a rookie.