When someone stops a policeman on the street and thanks him for arresting them, the officer knows they’ve been doing the job for the right reasons.
Over the years, Kim Northcutt has had people stop him in the store and thank him for arresting them. He had changed their lives. He’s even had parents and grandparents thank him for helping straighten out their kids when it was needed.
Northcutt has a profound understanding of the human condition. It informs him in his police work, “Everybody’s a bad guy,” he says. “We’ve all done things we regret. We learn from our life experiences.”
Northcutt has been a police officer since 1998. He began with the New Mexico Mounted Patrol as a volunteer law enforcement officer. He went through their training academy. He became certified to assist any law enforcement agency in New Mexico when they needed the help.
Kim had been working at the bus manufacturing plant on the old Walker Air Force base when a friend told him about the mounted patrol. He had gone to school to do auto paint and bodywork. While he enjoyed his job, the plant went from being owned by TMC to Novabus and job security was looking grim. Dan Girand had been with the NMMP for years and when he shared with Northcutt about the work, it sparked something inside the man.
Over the next five years, Northcutt spent every available weekend volunteering with the state police. He enjoyed it so much that he almost had no personal life. His wife finally called him out on that. After a heart-to-heart with her, he applied to work with the Roswell Police Department and was hired in 1998. He started as a patrol officer working the streets overnight. Throughout his nine year patrol career, Northcutt has been a training officer and a drug recognition expert. Eventually, he moved to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
For another seven years, he was a detective in the Criminal Investigation Division. At first, he worked crimes against property; the crimes he refers to as the smaller stuff. He worked his way up to investigating crimes against people. After that, he was promoted to sergeant and he went back to being a patrol officer for three years. But he was destined to return to the CID. He returned there as a sergeant, currently serving as a lieutenant in charge of the division.
As a sergeant in the CID, Northcutt served warrants, handled calls and did a more tightly focused version of the work he’d done as a patrol sergeant. As a lieutenant, his responsibilities begin with the administrative side. He makes sure his people have what they need to do their jobs. He assigns tasks and schedules work to get the best results possible.
Northcutt sees the patrol aspect of police work as the backbone of the investigation. Their being on the front-line of any crime, be it a crime in progress, apprehending a fugitive, or taking statements from victims, patrol officers’ job makes his work possible.
Sometimes patrol doesn’t feel they should handle a felony case so they send those to him. CID investigations go deeper and take more time. CID handles surveillance, interviewing witnesses, getting phone records and the like. These are things that patrol often doesn’t have the time or manpower to do.
Like any dedicated professional, Northcutt keeps his motivation to keep going top-of-mind; however, his family is the center of his life. When his son was four years old, he wanted to play baseball. Northcutt took him to the Noon Optimist Park and was told they had to wait a year for his son to play. Kim didn’t like that answer any better than his son did, so they went across town and the Lions Hondo team said they’d love to have the boy join them. Northcutt was so happy for his son that when they told him they needed coaches he decided he’d do it. He remembers asking himself, “How hard could it be?”
The challenges of teaching children how to play baseball weren’t a problem at all. He continued to coach for nine years as his son continued to play. What made it difficult was seeing children he recognized from work. A child who wasn’t getting enough to eat… A child whose parents fought constantly… A child who was exposed to violence and addiction every day of his young life. These were common experiences for Northcutt and they forced him to take stock of what he was doing there.
He decided to be the best coach he could be, as much for those children as for his own son. When they needed to talk, he was there. If he could feed a kid, he did. Whenever he’d meet a parent that he’d arrested, he’d shake their hand and give them a genuine smile and listen to them. Coaching became his stress relief. It also helped him to see how he’s made a difference in people’s lives. It’s common for some young adult to see him in a store and shout out, “Hey coach!” with a grin.
Over the last couple of years, Northcutt has decided to make a change. He took his test to guide hunts. Last year he took his son and two other people on a hunt and all three of them got an elk. He has found he likes guiding hunts and expects to keep doing it for years.
For Kim, the biggest lesson his career has taught him is that it’s vital to not react in anger. He has said that one commitment can change a person’s life for the better. It’s a lesson he had to learn for himself. Everybody handles anger in their own way. His approach is to step back so that he doesn’t say anything he regrets later. The cooling off period he sets for himself has made for a much better life.
One of life’s most important lessons Northcutt gained from both his work and his leisure time activities is how painful tough experiences can be for a person. He sees people trying to get through tough times alone and he understands. Emotional pain can be lonely, but Kim stressed that reaching out to talk about it is the best thing a person can do in the midst of lonely pain. As a coach, he had the opportunity to listen many times and people still thank him for that.
Northcutt encourages everyone to find someone they can confide in. Someone who will listen without judgment. Whether it’s a counselor, a minister, a coach, a teacher a friend or anyone else. Having that listening ear is more beneficial than we realize when we’re hurting. It’s easy for a person’s imagination to run away with them when they’re in that space. He quotes his mother telling him, “Ninety-nine percent of the stuff you worry about never happens.”
Kim Northcutt says in his career he’s seen it all. He’s had it on him. He’s taken it home on his boots. What’s made him keep on keeping on is knowing that someone needs him to make a difference.
Story originally published in Focus on Roswell 2019: Summer Edition.