San Jon chief keeps busy

William Thompson

Ben Gates is not only the Chief of Police for San Jon, he is also that city’s entire police force. Chief Gates said sometimes life as a small town police officer is very slow and sometimes it is quite hectic.

“Sometimes it seems that one police officer is one too many for this town and sometimes it seems that five officers would not be enough,” said Gates. “I guess most of the calls I respond to involve people traveling into the San Jon area along I-40.”

Gates responded to 38 calls during the month of May, not including traffic stops. He said he sees a little bit of everything.

“I’ve responded to domestic disputes involving travelers who have stopped at the local truck stops, and I’ve also made some drug arrests, everything from LSD to marijuana,” said Gates. I’ve also had to respond to incidents of child abuse and attempted suicides.”

Gates began his San Jon police career seven years ago when he was asked by a San Jon councilman to apply for an open police officer position. During his first week and a half on the job, Gates was introduced to real danger.

“A man robbed a bank in Tucumcari, and the suspect wound up in the San Jon area. The former San Jon Chief, Chester Bobbitt, and I engaged in high-speed pursuit of the man, who was driving a stolen Ford Bronco. We chased him through fences into pastures and across fields,” said Gates.
“We finally apprehended him in a pasture 14 miles south of San Jon.”

One of the more serious cases Gates investigated involved counterfeiting and illegal weapons.

“About four years ago, the Driver’s Travel Mart Truck Stop reported that they were receiving counterfeit money,” he said. “I had a confidential informant who told me where the money was coming from. In pursuing those leads, I found that the counterfeiters also had illegal automatic weapons and silencers.”

Three San Jon-area men were eventually arrested and prosecuted by the federal government. Gates worked with members of the F.B.I., A.T.F. and even the C.I.A. during the course of that investigation.

Gates said he knows everybody in San Jon and everyone knows him. He said some of the residents have tried to appeal to his friendship when he has caught them breaking the law.

“Some people have tried that on me, ‘ said Gates, “but my feeling on that is if they were really my friend they wouldn’t try to put me in that position of looking the other way when a law is broken.”

Gates is no amateur lawman. He has undergone training that all other New Mexico policemen must go through.

“I went through the academy in Santa Fe, and I continue to get 40 hours of training every year at various schools and in various classes,” he said.

Sometimes Gates requires backup officers during tense situations. He said the New Mexico State Police and Quay County Sheriffs respond as quickly as possible.

“They usually get to me in 15-20 minutes,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little longer. It all depends on where they are when I call them.”

Overall, Gates said San Jon is a caring community.
“San Jon is a friendly community where people watch out for other people’s kids,” said Gates. “If something is going on, I usually hear about it pretty quickly.”