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Social media fuels confusion over policing of Fowler

Posted at 10:36 PM, Aug 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-14 00:58:08-04

FOWLER – The Town of Fowler, population 1,145 according to the 2016 census, has only two police officers to patrol the entire town, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Chief Jacob Freidenberger has only one employee.  Between the two of them, they work grueling shifts.  “I work four days, 24 hours a day, so it’s a four-day block, solid,” Freidenberger said.  “My other officer does the exact same thing.  We have one day of overlap.”

Being so thinly staffed means that, occasionally, Fowler Police will have to call the Otero County Sheriff’s Office to assist with law enforcement in town.  The details of that arrangement led recently to some social media rumor mongering and general confusion.  “I think some information was misconstrued from a meeting that included some other officials, both county and city,” said Otero County Sheriff Shawn Mobley.  The confusion centered around how, or if, Otero County would be compensated for its services when called to assist in Fowler.

“I think a lot of the concern is there isn’t a Memorandum of Understanding right now to where the rules are set up to be very clear on how funds will be paid and what one agency can expect from the other party,” said Fowler mayor Nathan Schultz.  Shultz and other town trustees held a meeting Monday night in which it was expected that Sheriff Mobley and Chief Freidenberger would address those concerns, however an incident requiring police response occurred directly across the street from the Fowler Town Hall moments before the meeting began, forcing Freidenberger’s absence.  The meeting was adjourned before Sheriff Mobley could speak on the record.

“I just want to make sure people know what exactly is going on and what my intentions are,” Mobley told News 5.  Social media rumors included speculation that the Sheriff’s Office would ultimately take over the Fowler Police Department.  “Just not the case,” Mobley said.  “I don’t have the time for that.  I certainly don’t have the staff for that.”

Fowler resident Heather Trujillo complained about police response times during Monday’s meeting.  “When we have called (police), we have not had a response, to where they don’t show up at all,” Trujillo said.

“Sometimes it’s a lot easier to just kind of take the burden on yourself than it is to explain to citizens that, hey, we didn’t have anybody, because that’s really hard for them to hear,” Freidenberger said.  “I was left alone as the sole officer for the town for several months due to another officer’s injury.”

Freidenberger says the Fowler Police Department is permitted to have three officers, but finding qualified candidates to fill the position at a salary of $32,000 is very difficult.  “There’s no comp time, no overtime, we work our block and get compensated our flat rate, no matter what we work,” Freidenberger explained.  He added that for the 96-hour “block” shift his lone officer must work alone and on-call in order to keep the department staffed around the clock, the pay rate is just a little more than $6 per hour.

Utilizing the Otero County Sheriff’s Office can help ease the burden on the two officers, and Sheriff Mobley wanted to stress to Fowler town leaders and community members that, as of now, there’s no plan to charge the town for the Sheriff’s Office’s services.  “We’re trying to find ways, proactive ways to work together where there is no price tag attached, but we’re not draining one another’s resources at the same time,” Mobley said.