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A Brief History of the NMSP

The New Mexico State Police has a proud 75 year tradition of service to the citizens of New Mexico. During the early days of New Mexico, there was only one official attempt at a statewide law enforcement agency. The New Mexico Mounted Police was established in 1905 by the 36th New Mexico Territorial Legislature. The state was still very much part of the old west then, and not everyone was pleased with the creation of a state police force.

Various criminal elements and corrupt politicians tried to abolish the mounted police in 1913, but thanks to Governor McDonald’s veto power, the plan failed. Opponents of the force did, however, succeed in convincing the legislature to appropriate no money to fund the force. From 1913 – 1917, the governor’s office found other ways to finance the mounted police from the state’s general fund and employed them in a limited capacity.

NMSP Motorcycle Officers 1937

During World War I, national security became a great concern, particularly in border states like New Mexico. History buffs may recall that the last time American soil was invaded by a foreign force was in 1916, when Mexican Revolution General Francisco “Pancho” Villa sacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico. The mounted police were reactivated and kept our border with Mexico secure, as well as provided general law enforcement services. For the next several years, the mounted police gained quite a reputation as an effective and professional police force, much to the disdain of the state’s lawbreakers, Fred Lambertwho often had strong political ties in Santa Fe. Finally, on February 15, 1921 – almost sixteen years after its inception – the New Mexico Mounted Police was abolished.

The advent of the automobile again highlighted the need for a statewide law enforcement agency. No other police force had jurisdictional authority to enforce laws throughout the state. In 1933, the New Mexico Motor Patrol was established, primarily to enforce traffic laws. The patrol had a civilian oversight board consisting of three members: Governor Arthur Seligman, Attorney General E.K. Neumann, and Highway Engineer Glenn D. Macy. The state of Texas had recently created their own motor patrol, and they detailed Captain Homer Garrison to conduct the first New Mexico Motor Patrol recruit school at St. Michael’s College in Santa Fe. One hundred thirty-five men applied for the school; eighteen were selected to attend; and ten were finally chosen and commissioned as the first motor patrol officers. Each officer was issued a Harley Davidson motorcycle with siren, red light, and other accessories. One of the ten graduates, Earl Irish, was appointed as the Chief and was given a monthly salary of $150; Patrolmen made $125 monthly. Officers were allowed $10 per month to maintain their uniforms.

The Motor Patrol proved to be a great success and within a few months of its existence, had generated more than enough revenue to fund itself.

A radio broadcasting system was set up that depended on a commercial radio station, KOB, in Albuquerque. Every week, officers would wire law enforcement matters to be disseminated to the chief in Santa Fe, who would see that KOB broadcast the information twice each day, except Sunday. In this way, motor patrol officers communicated information to each other such as descriptions of wanted suspects and stolen goods.

By 1935, the need to expand the authority and responsibility of the motor patrol was widely recognized. The Twelfth State Legislature changed the name of the organization to the New Mexico State Police, and gave its officers full police powers to enforce all laws of the state and complete statewide jurisdiction. The authorized strength was raised to 30 officers; the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, and captain were added; and salaries were increased. The uniform adopted in 1936 is still in use today, with the exception of the riding breeches and boots favored by motorcycle officers. Seven Chevrolet sedans were added to the department’s fleet and a new headquarters building was designed and constructed at a cost of $19,000.

E.J. House and Charles MillerFrom these meager but colorful beginnings, the New Mexico State Police has grown into a modern police department that strives to set new standards for professionalism and ethical law enforcement. Today, the authorized officer strength is 568 and we employ over 490 civilian employees in various capacities. We are responsible for coordinating all search and rescue operations in the state, narcotics & criminal investigations, as well as traffic enforcement, and a whole host of other specialized operations.

If you are someone who can contribute to this time honored tradition, consider applying for a position in the next New Mexico State Police academy class.