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It’s no accident that the Los Alamos skateboard park is located next to the Mesa Public Library and is also near the police station.
When Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy came to Los Alamos eight years ago to be interviewed for the job, one of the questions he was asked was what he would do about the kids illegally skateboarding on the sidewalks.
His answer very well may have landed him the job. It wasn’t the typical answer you’d expect from someone who at the time, had 27 hard years invested in law enforcement, mostly in towns and cities much larger than Los Alamos.
Instead of giving a pat answer about punishment and penalties, he answered the interviewer with another question, something along the lines of, “Where can the kids skateboard legally right now?”
As it turns out, there wasn’t a place in Los Alamos where kids could skateboard legally, and so one of the first things Torpy did was team up with the county council and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board to help the youth of Los Alamos get their own skateboard park. It was eventually built where it stands today, in no small part to Torpy’s influence.
“It was controversial at the time, because it was right across from the library,” Torpy said. “But I thought it was great place for it. It was close to the police department where there’s relative safety for them and right across from the library, where, if they wanted to, they can go read a book. It’s one of my happier accomplishments.”
It didn’t hurt he location and the project itself fit right in with his belief system when it comes to law enforcement.
“I tell people all the time that I believe in the definition of insanity, trying to do things the same way and expecting to get a different result,” Torpy said. “When you think about the many ways we do law enforcement, in many ways it is insanity. We build bigger jails, hire more cops, we chase crooks from one town to the other. Modern day law enforcement is beginning to see we need to invest more in young people. That will probably be the best strategy for dealing with crime.”
Torpy, who announced last week he will retire in the fall due to health reasons, said he’s also thankful that Los Alamos allowed him to test his beliefs.
“Los Alamos was like a test tube for law enforcement,” he said. “Highly educated people, low crime, and a very involved community. Everything I believed about that combination was taking place in Los Alamos. It made me more passionate about my beliefs when it came to effective law enforcement.”
It’s those beliefs that also endeared him to key members of the community.
“He changed the face of the department. He made it more community oriented,” said County Clerk Sharon Stover, who first started to work with Torpy when she on the county council. “He came up with practical solutions to problems; he tried to work in a way that made everyone happy,” she added.
During the Las Conchas Fire, Torpy became a minor celebrity of sorts, at least according to his contemporaries.
“He is the last of the big three,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt, who said that during the fire, twice a day, Stover, Torpy and then Los Alamos Fire Chief Doug Tucker (now retired) would hold a press conference, updating residents about what was happening.
“For the 10 days of the fire they were out front, calmly reassuring people that things were going to be OK,” Schmidt said.
He added that during the entire time the fire was charring areas very near town, Torpy never left. “That was quite a statement,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt also credited Torpy with doing a lot to help strengthen ties between the community, the school system and the police department through monthly meetings.
“We would have meetings about anything, whether it was a specific issue such as the role of the school resource officer or general philosophy about leadership,” Schmidt said. Schmidt said he also admired Torpy’s activism when it came to the youth of Los Alamos. “He should certainly be given credit for his behind-the-scenes involvement with the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, where he would lobby very quietly and at times very vocally for funding to support what the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board was doing for kids.”
Another accomplishment of Torpy’s was the resurrection of the school resource officer program, a program he implemented shortly after signing on to the department as chief. Currently the police department has an officer at the middle school and the high school, and has one other officer cover all of the elementary schools.
“I thought that it was important that kids see the police in a different environment, rather than seeing them pull people over and writing tickets,” Torpy said. “I thought seeing them in a caring role, a more engaged role was important.”
Torpy has also been credited with modernizing the police department as well reorganizing and upgrading one of the most important facets of the department, its evidence room.
However, Torpy said what he would really like to be remembered for is not necessarily for buildings and skateboard parks.
“I will leave behind a group of people that I was largely responsible for recruiting, training and hiring,” he said. “In some respects that is as much of me that can be left behind. We can talk about programs, buildings and skateboard parks, but I truly hope that along the line my officers will have learned some positive things from me about how to do this job, how to treat the citizens and how to be responsive to the public. That is my hope.”