The largest crowd in most people’s memories to attend a Tucumcari City Commission meeting gathered at city hall Thursday evening to air their opinions about the Tucumcari City Police Force and in relation to that, its chief, Dennis Townsend.
As over 75 people crowded into the commission chambers, they heard more than a dozen different people express opinions both for and against the police force. Ages for the 13 speakers ranged from under 17 to over 70.
Because of the number of speakers addressing the city commission, newly elected Mayor Mary Mayfield imposed a three minute speaking limit on each speaker. First to speak at the meeting was George Aragon whose speech to the commission two weeks earlier had ignited the controversy about the behavior of members of the police department. At that time Aragon and a number of other speakers spoke against both Townsend and the police. At Thursday’s meeting Aragon submitted petitions with over 300 signatures calling for Townsend’s removal because of his lack of control of the department. Following Aragon’s speech, his wife Shirley Aragon explained her fears and discomfort with the police in Tucumcari.
She, in turn, was followed by Art Palmer who described many positive things the police department in Tucumcari has done, pointing to their help with the high school football team and that they are “dedicated and under-paid people doing their best.” Following Palmer was Karen Alarcon owner of the Trails West Lounge. Alarcon said she didn’t mind regular police patrols and walk-throughs at her establishment, but she said what the police have been doing has been excessive. “I respect the police officers but seeing them always parked across the street is too much.”
Barbara Hitchcock was extremely supportive of Police Chief Dennis Townsend. “I am here to tell you,” Hitchcock said to the commission, “that I support Dennis Townsend. I know of no finer man than our police chief.”
Shari Anaya, on her part, said that she had little support from the police when the man who assaulted her son was released and threatened her son once again. Speakers included former city managers, new residents to Tucumcari, city natives and a child of a former officer. Although the actual speaking out by Tucumcari citizens continued for just under 45 minutes, when the final tally was taken one more person had spoken in support of the police than directly against. Some speaking in favor of the force, said that at times officers might have been having a “bad day” or at times had over-reacted.
On the other side, some of those speaking against the Tucumcari Police Department said there were indeed good officers on the force who were professional and ought to be respected. After the last person had spoken, Mayor Mary Mayfield thanked them for addressing the commission but said because of legal constraints commissioners could not comment publicly on personnel matters. Despite that, during his portion of “reports by commissioners” City Commissioner Chris Maestes said he felt that when so many people had voiced strong opinions, the situation that brought forth those comments and petitions should be seriously examined.