Brice Current spent countless hours with people he once considered “bad.” Not because he wanted to – but because it was his job.
The 20-year, now-retired, San Juan County, N.M., Sheriff’s Office employee worked for a bit as an undercover narcotics agent. He sat in vehicles in plain clothes chatting with suspected drug dealers, gathering information he hoped would help curb the flow of black-market drugs, and the violence that comes with them, from arriving in San Juan County.
A theme in policing when he joined the force was sort of “us vs. them,” Current said. The idea was that police worked on law enforcement – they didn’t bother with issues of mental illness or housing. Current said he subscribed, at least in part, to the us vs. them ideology when he started in law enforcement.
But his outlook changed as he got to know the people he investigated. The conversations he had with suspected drug dealers meandered, and while they may have been adversaries in society, Current said his undercover work gave him a chance to see “how their choices led them down this path.”
Current said he “really learned to respect people” as an undercover agent.
“I saw that, down deep, they were good people,” he said. “It opened my eyes to different types of policing.”
A new gigCurrent drives 45 minutes from northern New Mexico to Durango everyday for work – a commute he said he has no complaints about. He likes it.
As deputy chief at Durango Police Department, a position established in August, Current manages day-to-day operations at the Durango Police Department and meets with community leaders or interested residents to mold his approach to law enforcement in the city. He’s making decisions and talking with people all day, he said.
It takes some time in the morning to prepare for such intense work, so Current said he listens to podcasts about leadership on his commute.
Law enforcement must be versed in more disciplines than ever before – including issues related to addiction, housing and access to jobs or health care. And there are fewer officers nationwide to keep growing communities safe, which can be a strain on agencies like the Durango Police Department.
Demanding hours, low pay and a diverse marketplace has made the prospect of being a police officer less appealing to a budding generation – and national criticism of law enforcement, whether justified or not, may make people who are passionate about keeping their community safe consider options other than joining the force.
The challenges facing law enforcement is something Current thinks about every day, and by the end of the day, he’s drained, so he listens to music on his commute home to “wind down.” His family is often eager to greet him after work, he said. The 45-minute commute gives him the time he needs to decompress so he can be an interested and engaged father and husband.
Community and communicationDurango police Chief Bob Brammer said he hired Current because he was impressed with his 20 years of law enforcement experience and philosophy about policing.
The deputy chief said the two decades he’s spent in law enforcement – from undercover narcotics work to SWAT team membership – helped him realize the value of collaboration with the community.
“Sharing resources is the future of policing,” he said. “That means working with the community.”
And he’s always been that way, said San Juan County, N.M., Sheriff Shane Ferrari.
“He’s not what we call a ‘call-taker’; he was out looking,” he said of Current. “He was proactive – he wouldn’t wait to be dispatched.”
Ferrari called Current a “master networker” who’s “not afraid to get down in the ditch and do the tough work.”
For example, when Current was debating whether to take the job in Durango, Ferrari asked what issues the town is dealing with. Current mentioned homelessness and how residents and business owners have reacted to the problems.
“I said, ‘Have you talked to the homeless?’” Ferrari said in an interview. “He said, ‘No.’ Then he went in normal clothes and went into camps and asked, ‘Why are you here?’ He’ll embed himself in the situation. He’s gonna be proactive. ... It didn’t surprise me he did that.”
The sheriff said Current is “a servant leader.”
“He’s not emotionally shallow,” Ferrari said. “He looks at that common factor. He tries to solve the problem.”