A typical day shift for University of New Mexico Police Department Officer Patrick Burk starts at 6 a.m.
On June 18 at 6:34 a.m., his first emergency call of the day crackled over radio dispatch — a near-drowning at Johnson Gym Pool.
Red and blue lights flashed on top of a wailing white SUV as Burk hastily travelled east on Lomas Boulevard.
Less than four minutes after the call, Burk joined two other UNMPD officers on the scene.
The pool sat still, as lifeguards and doctors in swimming wear huddled around the victim, performing life saving measures.
As Burk and emergency medical technicians entered the building, a nearby emergency radio reported the victim was “conscious and coughing.” Burk surveyed the scene as EMTs stabilised the 77-year-old male.
Less than 20 minutes later, the victim was on a gurney and talking on a cell phone as EMTs rolled him to an ambulance.
Burk, a native New Mexican and a 17-and-a half year retired Bernalillo County Sheriff, has been with UNMPD for just over two years.
He comes from a family history of wearing the badge. His mother was an Albuquerque Police Department Officer and his father was a Bernalillo County Sheriff. He said his parents met during an undercover drug sting before his father became the Airport Chief of Police.
He said he encourages students to pursue a career in law enforcement if they are thinking about it.
“Only (become a police officer) if your heart is into it,” Burk said. “If you’re not in it for the right reason, then leave your profession. (That’s) not for just being a cop, that’s for any profession.”
For Burk, a typical day consists of balancing his initial responsibilities — such as patrolling UNM’s sparse offices and abandoned properties — with answering service calls.
UNM’s properties are scattered between Menaul Boulevard and Gibson Boulevard. Many of these properties consist of administrative offices, but some are abandoned.
The North, Main and South campus locations are shared among Burk and three other UNMPD officers during the day shift.
UNMPD officers aim to deter vehicle break-ins during their patrols, in addition to checking on faculty.
Some UNM parking lots can contain less than 100 cars, while others can have more than 400. Burk said patrolling some of these lots can take all day.
“We’re probably about 10 (officers) shy to cover the area that we would need to cover appropriately,” he said. “We need more cops.”
Due to the vast area and low number of officers on shift, Burk said some service calls are prioritized and can result in some parking lots getting “neglected.”
Burk said although the day crew consists of a handful of officers, each person has more than 15 years in law enforcement experience. Altogether, the department is made up of former police lieutenants, commanders, and gang, narcotics and homicide detectives. Burk said because of the background and experience held by each officer, the department is self-sufficient.
While snaking through the parking lot of the Center for Development and Disability off Menaul Boulevard, a call is dispatched over Burk’s radio — a tripped alarm at the Southwest Hispanic Institute off of Sigma Chi Road.
Burk made mental note of any cars on the road and scanned the building for any signs of forced entry.
Another officer arrived on the scene and made note of a car parked in front of the building. After running the license plate through their software, and it came back registered to a UNM faculty member.
It was a false alarm.
The officers helped the faculty member disable the building’s alarm and all parties returned to their tasks.
Even with veteran officers, Burk said the biggest issue the University struggles with is property theft. He said any parking lot can be targeted and if you want to mitigate the possibility of vehicle break-ins, do not leave valuables in a car.
“We get a criminal element that preys on this community, because this community is made up of young adults who are so busy with trying to stay afloat and learn how to be an adult in general,” Burk said. “It’s rough. They’re easy (targets).”
Burk said bicycles are popular targets for thieves, adding that students should register their bike’s serial number with UNMPD in the event it gets stolen.
While he patrols UNM’s properties, Burk wears a bulletproof vest. He said wearing it changes his thinking.
“I’m responsible for the guys I work with. I take it very seriously when I put on the uniform and I’m going to do my job to my fullest to ensure that not only I go home safe, (but) that my partner goes home safe, (as well as) anyone we’re out here to protect — if I can influence them going home safely then I will,” Burk said.
Even driving through University parking lots, Burk said he remains vigilant, because of growing trends of ambush style attacks on police officers throughout the decade.
“In order for me to go home to my family, to my daughters, I have to change how I handle myself at work,” he said.
There have not been any ambushes on law enforcement officers so far in New Mexico in 2018, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), a nonprofit that documents officer fatalities. The NLEOMF, however, recorded over 120 law enforcement fatalities in 2017, a decrease from 159 in 2016.
Anthony Jackson is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TonyAnjackson.