Tech Police Chief Retires After 40 Years In Law Enforcement

SOCORRO, N.M. October 27, 2011 – Billy Romero, 62, director of Campus Police at New Mexico Tech, is hanging up his badge for the final time Monday, ending a law enforcement career that spanned four decades.

  Campus Police Chief Billy Romero

The Associate Director of Campus Police, George Murillo, has been named interim director.

“I’m ready to do some serious fishing, and to spend more time with my family,” Romero said at the retirement party in his honor Wednesday, Oct. 26. That family includes his wife of 18 years, Patricia, the school nurse at Sarracino Middle School; four daughters, 16 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The career officer was given a watch commemorating his years of service with the university – along with high accolades and best wishes.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for 40 years, and this is the best place I’ve ever worked,” Romero said. “New Mexico Tech has the best people, and I’ll miss them.”           Lonnie Marquez, Tech vice president for administration and finance, said he had a great deal of respect for Romero, as exemplified by an incident that took place several years ago.

At that time, Romero responded to a report of an out-of-control student on the Golf Course using a golf club to hammer on an electric cart.

When the officer tried to defuse the situation, the student turned on Romero and slugged him before being subdued.

The student was scheduled to graduate from Tech the following day, and Romero opted not to press charges so that the young man could begin his post-collegiate life with a clean slate.

“That’s the kind of man he is,” said Marquez.

Romero officially steps down as Director of Campus Police on Oct. 31 after four years in the post. He was named Associate Director of Campus Police in 2003, and served as an officer under longtime Director Tom Zimmerman for 10 years, from 1990 to 2000, with a three-year stint as a detective with the Socorro Police Department sandwiched in between.

His career began with the city police in 1972, the year he completed training at the New Mexico Police Academy. Ten years later he joined the Socorro County Sheriff’s Office as second in command to Ray Spurgin; two years later, Romero won the elective position outright, and remained with the department until he joined the University’s law enforcement ranks.

Shortly after taking office in January 1987, Romero agreed to an “In Focus” interview with El Defensor Chieftain. The reporter noted that the brass-plated sign over the Sheriff’s Department door still read: “Ray Spurgin, Sheriff – Billy Romero, Undersheriff,” and she questioned him about it.

He laughed. “I’m waiting for the budget for a new one,” said the new sheriff in town.

In an era when some law enforcement personnel in New Mexico are under public scrutiny for misdeeds ranging from theft to murder to misuse of their authority, Romero stands out as a good cop among good cops.

He is the consummate professional, but retains an easy-going demeanor that has endeared him to many in the Socorro community.

In 1987, Romero was nominated for New Mexico “Officer of the Year” by then-Chief Santiago “Jim” Naranjo of the Socorro Police Department.

The nomination noted Romero’s involvement with people and a perfect attendance record. “He is an asset to this department and to this community in general,” Naranjo said.

As voiced at his retirement party, “Everyone loves Billy – he is the next-door neighbor everyone wishes they had, always ready to lend a helping hand to those in need.”

Forty years is a long time to spend in any single career; and, those who do, are apt to see a lot of change over time.

Law enforcement is no different.

In the wake of the killings at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, colleges and universities nationwide developed detailed plans on how to handle a similar crisis in their own communities.

Romero was a part of that effort at New Mexico Tech, and served as a liaison between Tech and local and state law enforcement agencies as part of the

Emergency Response Team.

At the time, his older brother, Lawrence Romero, was the Socorro Police Chief.

The younger Romero was only 15 when his father died, and Lawrence, seven years older and already a career law enforcement officer, took on the role of father figure for Billy, who sometimes joined Lawrence on patrols.

It was hardly a coincidence when Billy eventually settled on a similar career, following a stint with Uncle Sam in Ft. Ord, Calif., and several food service jobs.

It’s a career he has followed over four decades, always looking to improve every office he worked for.

Romero said he is leaving the Campus Police Department in good hands, and is proud of the accomplishments implemented over the past four years, thanks to support from Tech President Dr. Daniel H. López, Marquez and the many division directors he came in contact with daily.

“But it’s time for a change,” he said Wednesday. Time to slap on his new watch and watch the river flow.

He’s earned it.

– NMT –

By Valerie Kimble /New Mexico Tech