First Female Undersheriff at Rio Arriba County

Rio Arriba County Undersheriff Monica Salazar is sworn into office. Photo Courtesy RAC Sheriff’s Office

Rio Grande Sun

Monica Salazar wasn’t aware she was making history when she accepted the position of Undersheriff at Rio Arriba County on July 12.

“I think it’s awesome because I would like to show that females can succeed in a male-dominated profession,” she said.

Salazar, 42, is speaking about her appointment making her the first female Undersheriff in Rio Arriba County, which she accepted when Rio Arriba County Sheriff Billy Merrifield selected her out of four candidates. She left her former position at Española Police Department because she said she thought this would be a good opportunity.

“I knew that there was a lot of positive things going on here at the department. I thought it’d be a good chance to hopefully be in the position to help make good changes and continue to kind of build this place so it’s more of a positive place because of … all the negativity that’s been kind of with the sheriff’s department through the last couple of sheriffs,” Salazar said.

She expressed disappointment at the lack of females in law enforcement, but hopes that’ll change.

After graduating from McCurdy High school in 1997 and then completing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at the University of Nevada-Reno, Salazar returned to her home state of New Mexico where she began her career in law enforcement. Her first position was as an adult probation and parole officer for the state in 2006, followed by her role as a special agent with the New Mexico State Tax Fraud Investigations Division. In 2007, she became a police officer for the Los Alamos Police Department. While there, Salazar continued pursuing her education, completing a master’s degree in criminal justice at Boston University in 2011. 

During her time at Los Alamos Police Department, Salazar went through several promotions including sergeant in 2010, in which she served as both training and patrol sergeant, and acting commander for a period of time in 2014. In 2018 she left, a parting she said was strained. 

“The administration and I were constantly at odds during the last year that I was employed there because I wholeheartedly believe that police officers should be held to a higher standard, and by all means should conduct themselves ethically. The administration did not always agree with me about ethical and moral issues that created a strong divide in the department because administrators were not held to the same standards as officers,” she said. 

Yet Salazar still believes there are policies that she can adapt from the Los Alamos Police Department.

“Los Alamos is very organized and really up to date on their policies,” she said. “I think us modeling ourselves after that is a positive and I’m always willing to look at whatever department it is to see how they’re doing things … A lot of times we should try to incorporate that and it’ll work for us as well.”

After her time at the Los Alamos Police Department, Salazar worked for the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office in 2019 then at the Española Police Department as a DWI officer in 2020 and a patrol sergeant in 2021. She is still getting used to the shift from that position to a more administrative role.

“I’m kind of used to being always out on patrol with the guys on my shift. It’s a big change to sit here when I hear a call come out over the radio … having to change to where I sit here in the office most of the time at least, and do paperwork … has been the most challenging part,” she said.

Salazar plans on being an active undersheriff, in which she still patrols the county and ensures the safety of its residents.

“I understand that I have administrative duties to fulfill, and that although that is my priority in this position, I also have spent nearly all my career on patrol and love working patrol with the deputies and officers. I believe that teamwork makes people feel as though you value them and as though you are willing to help them with whatever is needed,” she said.