An officer working to keep people safe, 29-year-old Briar Billa is a member of the New Mexico State Police. He is currently stationed and working out of the Socorro County State Police Department building, District 11. He welcomed El Defensor Chieftain into the officer meeting room to talk about his part in helping the community.
Why did you decide to get involved in law enforcement?
Back in 2009, fresh out of high school, I had my pick-up truck stolen from me in Albuquerque. I never got it back. That leaned me towards becoming a law enforcement officer. It was already on my mind, but it took about two years after that happened before I decided to do this as a career.
How long have you been stationed in this office?
I’ve been with state police since last November. Before that, I was with the sheriff's office for around seven years here in Socorro county. That was where I started.
What brought you here?
Opportunity, I guess. I was interested in doing some other things in my life, and state police has specialty teams that you can go on. For example, if you want to go on the bomb team or auto theft team, you can do that. They have a lot of different divisions that you can branch in to. But I'm still young, and I wanted to start branching out into other potential things for my career down the road.
What are your responsibilities, day to day here at the office?
First and foremost, it's to make sure the general public has good police service. That we’re there if they need us to keep them safe. To make sure that the roadways are safe and people are not driving hazardously on the highways and interstates. My primary responsibility is to be there for the public when they need us and when they need me.
How does the public react to officers, such as yourself, in your experience?
In Socorro County, the general public has always been grateful for the law enforcement that is here. I haven't had very many negative contacts with people here in the community.
What was the strangest case you have ever worked on?
The toughest case was when myself and another deputy completely exhausted ourselves in the course of two days during the summer of June 2017. We rescued a missing man out of Nevada out of the Rio Grande river. We pushed ourselves to the limit there, especially being exposed to the hot summer sun for hours upon hours and were exhausted. But fortunately, we were able to locate the individual before he passed away.
What is the toughest part day to day of your job?
Not knowing what is that I am going to be expecting when I come into work. You're unsure oftentimes what a person has done, which can make the situation very dangerous. We have to make sure as a team that we are safe and don't get ourselves hurt.
What is the easiest part of law enforcement?
For me, it's interacting with the public. I'm a people person so I can spark a conversation with anybody - no problem. I think that is a great skill to have and it is very easy for me.
At this stage in your career, what is your feeling about the job?
I feel fantastic. Since I fully got started in 2013, there is something every day that I had never seen before. I have to adapt, overcome, and keep learning all the time with my colleagues, superiors and people. Right now, I'm in a good place and there is nothing I would rather do.
As far as your upbringing, are you born and raised in Socorro?
I was born here. My dad Ronnie Villa was working on a ranch. From there, we moved around to different ranch areas in the state. We spent a lot of time living on the side of the Alamo Navajo reservation with my dad running the Acoma Cattle company for several years. From there, I went to high school in Magdalena. Afterward, I worked in Albuquerque for the TLC Electric Company for almost three years before I decided to come back home. I wanted to get back to the small-town life.
How was your experience growing up on a ranch?
It was awesome. The lifestyle is something that I loved. Growing up on nothing but ranches as opposed to people who grow up in town is very different. We were so far away from the city. At one point, the bus stop was 27 miles of dirt road, before a 50-mile ride to school. So my days were long before coming home to do chores. With my sister Shinaya.
What was your interaction growing up with your sister like?
We fought a lot, as a lot of siblings do. Being around the ranches and staying out all day, we got into it. But we get along great. She’s a stay at home mom in Belen and loves every minute of it.
And your other family background?
My mother is half Navajo. Her grandmother is full Navajo and couldn't even speak English. That is how I have ties to the reservation. So when I came back, I found a job at the reservation as the head football coach for the Cougars. I was able to get their football program going out there.
How did you build the Alamo football program?
I found out that they were going to get a brand new stadium and that they needed somebody to start their program. I said, "Wow, that would be interesting." I applied and got the job.
A few random questions. What is your favorite movie?
Definitely "The Cowboy Way" for me. It depicts this cowboy image of New Mexico. Maybe it's because I was brought up on all of these ranches, and "The Cowboy Way" is about two ranchers from New Mexico. Plus, it's just funny. I can relate to it.
What is your favorite type of music?
Man, on the norm. I could go from listening to country then rap in two seconds. If it sounds good, I don't mind it. If you tied me down and I had to answer, my favorite is Dwight Yoakum. When it comes to country music, you can't beat it. He has a voice unlike any other. I like the old school country music like that.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’ve seen some fantastic pictures of Montana. It would be nice to buy a nice chunk of property up there where you’re away from everyone. Nice views of the forest and mountains. Growing up on ranches my first time even seeing Albuquerque was in 2009 during our first state track meet. I like being far away from towns because it's peaceful.
What is your favorite thing to do recreationally?
Play the fiddle believe it or not. I was flipping through some YouTube stuff and saw some WWII stuff, and I thought this would be a good idea. I subscribed to a teacher online and they taught me how to play. I also used to play sports every day (baseball, basketball), but right now, we are unfortunately on lockdown.
If there was one thing that you would change about Socorro County, what would it be?
Honestly, it would be the drug use in Socorro County is just terrible. Most of the crimes come right from drug use. It is unfortunate for the community members who are not always ready to deal with that type of drug use, and that has been for years. It's a hard question, and it all comes down to the person wanting to help themselves. I do not know how to do that. All we can do is take things by person by person and make sure people coming into our office area.