It’s been nearly nine years since current UNM Police Department Chief Joseph Silva began serving Lobos on campus. While the safety and security issues facing the campus have changed across nearly a decade, the commitment from UNMPD remains stable.
Silva is filled to the brim with ideas on how to better fight the issues the campus community faces, as well as identify and prioritize rising threats. It’s a constantly moving scope, which he has been trying to get ahead of since his employment with UNMPD.
“One of the things we need to consider when looking at trends are the things that are going on in the city, the problems, the concerns that go on in the city– those bleed onto the campus," Silva said. "How can we address those issues before they come onto campus?"
A new tune for the DJ
The thought of working in law enforcement was planted while Silva was a student at UNM. He participated in a work study program, and worked part time as a DJ, with an initial goal to graduate as a business major, and work as an accountant.
“There was a police officer that would request songs when I was at work. He and I started talking and developed a relationship,” Silva said. “One day he says to me: ‘You can't be spinning records for the rest of your life.’ He asked me if I had ever considered a career as a police officer. He kind of opened that door as to what a police officer did and the roles and responsibilities that they have within a community.”
After months of rocking the oldies, Silva took this officer up on his offer and went down to the Albuquerque Police Department’s main station to begin the process. He was eventually hired in 1981.
“I filled out an interest card, and I tell everybody the rest is history. I did decide to go into law enforcement. It really gave me a really diverse foundation with different types of situations and how to handle a variety of calls for service,” Silva said.
Climbing the ladder
Silva gained his broad experience in policing at APD beginning as a patrol officer, and eventually progressing throughout the department by becoming a detective, field supervisor, police administrator and finally an executive officer (2nd in command).
After retiring from APD, he worked as a subcontractor with a company out of Chicago and then for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He also returned to New Mexico under Attorney General Gary King to build a public corruption division within the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. Silva has definitely built his professional knowledge, skills, and abilities in his nearly 40 years in Law Enforcement.
“My father, he's very successful and really achieved great things in his life. I aspire to be like him in doing the best job that I can do. That's what he told me when I was growing up. He said, ‘No matter what you do, whatever you do in life, just try to be the best you can be.’ That's the motto that I live by. Whatever the field, vocation, profession or endeavor that I was going to go into, I desire to do it to the best of my ability,” Silva said.
After earning a graduate degree, he joined UNMPD in 2014, under then Chief Kevin McCabe. He learned every role he could within the operations of the department, including patrol, dispatch, investigations and security. With that go-getter understanding, it eventually became clear he would step up to fill McCabe’s shoes.
Can't spell community without unity
In leading the department and the campus community, Silva believes a solution to safety is in the campus itself: community.
“One goal is getting to share my knowledge and experience with the community, and being able to network to address some of the issues that are going on,” he said. “It's all about community communication and engagement, and dealing with and addressing problems in those areas. Once people see that you really do have a vested interest in the community, they start opening up to you.”
He believes whole-heartedly in community policing. As someone who helped build APD’s own community policing initiative from the ground up, Silva believes there’s something to be said about engaging the community in addressing crimes, public safety and quality of life issues.
“Some of the residents in the areas I worked around the city were very leery of reporting things to the police department in fear that they would be retaliated against by some of the people doing wrongdoings in their area,” Silva said. “It took a lot of building trust and communication and working on projects together. I saw a big difference in the community where we were at.”
Implementing community policing does not come without its challenges, but Silva thinks the benefits of trust and problem-solving together, outweighs philosophical differences in approach.
“You come into a university setting, and it's an academic setting. In the initial meetings we had that were related to community policing, more of the participants were interested in how we reimagine community policing. They're looking at things from a philosophical level rather than an operational level. Still, we've come to the reality that we have to have an awareness of whatever's going on,” he said.
Protection of people and property
That doesn’t mean UNMPD is relying solely on those it serves to make a difference. There are plenty of initiatives and successes that the department has accomplished in the last few years.
This includes a huge step forward in technology, with Access Control Systems being added readily to campus buildings, and video surveillance system upgrades.
UNMPD is also one step closer to a new records management system, to better process and analyze crime data. The Department is also prioritizing scenario-based training and virtual academy options, so officers never stop learning.
Its partnerships are also never ending. With UNM being an urban campus, so melded in the middle of Albuquerque, teaming up with APD and Project ECHO, which includes Nob Hill-University Public Safety ECHO, CIT ECHO, Downtown Public Safety ECHO, and recently MCI (Metro Crime Initiative) ECHO,has been instrumental in addressing some of the issues on campus.
“It's a consortium of neighborhood associations, subject matter experts and other resources from other police departments and fire services in the metro area,” Silva said. “In the Nob Hill-University area, community groups within the neighborhoods are all getting together with representatives from public safety and talking about the issues that are happening around the Nob Hill-University area, and how to address those issues.”
More people call UNMPD than ever before, as well. Calls have increased almost 30% since Silva took the helm. That’s a good thing.
“One of the things that we really stress on campus is if you see something, say something. So I think if people are calling us more, they're trusting us more,” Silva said. “You know, we still have a lot of work to do, but I think that helps.”
There are plenty more initiatives to come too. In collaboration with the UNM Office of Emergency Management and the UNM Bookstore, there are initiatives to buy bulk cages for catalytic converters. This would help deter theft, as would the proposed initiative to bring license plate scanners to UNMPD.
“One of the biggest occurrences that happens is property crimes. I think the reality is that there is a problem, but we’re trying to work out a deal where maybe we can get some tools for the university to try out and see how those work. We're excited about that,” Silva said.
UNM also requested funding from the legislature to add cameras and other safety measures to campus, including the possibility of drone surveillance.
“We built on that surveillance system in all the parking lots because that's where those events were occurring. Any footage that we could get would be helpful,” Silva said. “That could provide us with investigative leads that we could follow up on, and try to prevent and curb some of the crimes that are happening in the parking lot areas.”
Also ahead, is a collaborative effort with the Division for Equity and Inclusion and Facilities Management to implement UNM’s own version of a neighborhood watch program.
“We're developing different areas within the community, and educating them on what things to be looking out for, addressing crime, and trying to prevent that,” he said. “The neighborhood watch model would be a perfect example of how we want to build a culture of safety and security on campus. We’re doing research on best practices, and identifying those stakeholders around the university that will assist us in kicking that off. So far, we have a lot of interest in it.”
This could help curb the increase in property crime, and person-on-person violent crime that UNMPD is trying to prevent.
“In a university setting, you need community input and activity in addressing some of the safety concerns around campus,” Silva said. “We can sit here in the police department and say, ‘well, this is a safety issue’, but if the community is facing things day in and day out that doesn't have anything to do with what we're thinking is the issue, then are we really being effective as a police department on campus?”
For those hesitant about the progress UNMPD has made, Silva points to why he believes community policing is key. He says so much of what UNMPD has done could not have been accomplished without all police department members working together. There’s also a lot to be said about the support of President Stokes, as well as student, faculty and staff organizations.
“President Stokes came on, and made public safety a priority, so that really changed things in just the perception of people on campus,” he said. “I really appreciate the student engagement in our community. It's a good opportunity for students to learn because they're eventually going to leave UNM. They can take that experience with them to whatever community they become part of and they'll know how to address some of the situations that they'll be facing.”
Silva also hopes he has reached down the ladder enough, to make sure UNMPD is in good hands for years to come.
“One of the things that I look at as a leader is succession planning, and helping those that will be taking my place when I leave. Ultimately, being a leader is not about me. It’s about the people who are on my team and how I can help them do what they do best to fulfill the mission of the police department,” he said. “If this is the twilight of my career in policing, what better way than to finish out my career at the same place that I started out as a college student so many years ago?”
For anyone wanting to be a part of the effort to keep their community safe, it’s possible without a badge.
“The police can't do it themselves. To address some of the problems, issues and concerns in our community, it takes the community,” Silva said. “One of the tenets of community policing is the police are the community and the community are police. We want to develop a culture where everybody has public safety in mind.”