RUGBY For Luis Coca Jr., it was an offer that was just too good to refuse.
The law enforcement veteran has taken on the task of rebuilding a police department pretty much from scratch following a controversial dismissal late this past year, signing on as the new Chief of Police in Rugby. The previous chief, Robert Walls, was fired in September 2008 for allegedly mishandling of cases as well as violating department policies.
Coca took over the position on Nov. 3. His first order of business has been establishing his department as a friendly and professional presence in the community.
Dave Caldwell/MDN •
Rugby Police Chief Luis Coca Jr., right, and Officer John Lemieux stand in front of the flag of the state of North Dakota Friday at Rugby’s City Hall. Coca took over as chief about four months ago.
"It's going pretty well," Coca said Friday. "We've instituted a lot of programs. We've gotten all of our officers hired, and they're all on board and doing well."
Coca doesn't smear the previous administration, he merely focuses on the task at hand.
"There was a public relations problem," Coca said, declining to go into depth about problems in the prior department.
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"All I can tell you is that it has changed," he said.
Coca said that rebuilding the level of trust between the department and the public is one of his main priorities.
"I'm getting a lot of good feedback, too," he said.
Coca's law enforcement career includes 20 years in military law enforcement with the Air Force, a four-year stint as Burlington's chief of police and work with the Ward County Sheriff's Department in various roles.
One of the programs Coca is instituting is CounterAct, an alcohol and drug education program with Rugby elementary students.
"It teaches refusal skills, showing kids how to resist and oppose using drugs and alcohol," he said.
Coca is also actively promoting seat belt usage with some surprises coming soon.
"At the high school, yesterday (Thursday) they don't know this yet we did a seat belt survey of the high school students," Coca said. "We only had 17 percent usage. That's very, very low."
He said he will be utilizing Minot's Safe Communities program, including director Kristen Partlow, to boost the seat belt campaign in Rugby.
"There's a whole list of things we're doing," Coca said.
Coca said he enjoys working with Pierce County Sheriff Robert Graber and his department.
"I'm an ex-county deputy, so my heart leans a little toward the sheriff's departments," he chuckled. "I'm still a deputy at heart."
Coca actually retired from the Burlington Police Department, but was drawn by the lure of the fresh start in Rugby. And he doesn't regret his decision one bit.
"I see myself sticking with it for another four to five years," he said. "And then I think I'm going to be done for the second time."
He plans on grooming one of his officers to be able to step in as chief with minimal transition pains. He also said he plans on staying in Rugby.
Coca said the department is currently busy with training the new officers on such things as computer programs as well as police procedures. Two of his officers have less than a year's experience. Officer John Lemieux has been in law enforcement for about four years.
"We're all ex-county deputies," Coca said. "I'm probably the only one with any city experience at all. There's a little bit of a difference on how we operate."
"This is a brand new police department," he said. "It's a great opportunity to build the police department that you want, and I find it to be a challenge. These officers find it to be a challenge too.
"They really want to get out there and do the right thing, and that's what's important."