Ray Coriz, who took the reins of the Southern Ute Police Department on Friday, Aug. 9, looks to his father’s example when it comes to the kind of department he runs.
“My dad taught me, because his mom taught him, that you greet a person every day with a ‘Good morning’ or a ‘Hello’ or you offer a person something to drink if they come into your house,” he said. “If we can get that instilled in everyone’s minds, that will make the department that much better.”
Coriz, who comes from the Santo Domingo and Isleta pueblos, grew up in northern New Mexico’s Chama Valley. His career began when he joined the New Mexico Army National Guard as a high school junior, ultimately serving from 1989 to 1997.
In 1994, his first exposure to corrections came when he was hired as a jailor for Rio Arriba County and the City of Espanola. Three years later, he joined the Santa Clara Tribal Police Department — his first tribal agency — as a patrol officer.
He spent three years as a deputy for the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office from 2000 to 2003 before returning to tribal law enforcement for the Tesuque Tribal Police just north of Santa Fe. There, over the course of 9 years, he rose through the ranks from patrol officer to sergeant and captain, spending his last couple years as acting chief of police.
His focus during his time in Tesuque was traffic enforcement, especially reducing alcohol-related car crashes. He sat on the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ tribal law enforcement advisory committee and began teaching Indian Country sobriety checkpoint training across the country, he said.
From 2004 to 2011, his department reported not one car crash related to alcohol, Coriz said.
It was also during his time in Tesuque that he first visited Ignacio, when he was sent to help police Ignacio Bike Week in 2004 and 2005. From then on, he remembered the area fondly, he said.
“I just really enjoyed it,” he said. “When I saw [the SUPD chief’s job] open, I right away knew it’s where I wanted to go.”
In July 2012, Coriz left Tesuque for his most recent role, as a patrol lieutenant for the Jicarilla Apache Tribal Police Department in Dulce, just across the state line from the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. When he saw an opening for the chief of police at SUPD on the tribe’s website earlier this year, it didn’t take long to decide to apply.
“These last few years of my career, it’s kind of been a goal for me: It’s chief or bust,” he said. “This is the only chief job I applied for.”
Coriz said he made two trips to Ignacio during the hiring process, once to meet with an interview committee and once for a follow-up question-and-answer lunch meeting.
Now that he’s here, he plans to live within the community with his wife and one son who remains at home ¬— four other children have grown up and moved out.
“My big thing is making a more positive connection with the community, with the children, with the elders,” he said. “My emphasis is wave at everyone. … That’s what we’re here to do, is it get to know everybody and to work together.”
Coriz said he hopes to bring some of his traffic expertise to the Southern Ute Reservation, but invites tribal members to bring other concerns to him as well.
“I do have an open-door police with tribal members,” he said. “There’s always something we can do to fix a problem, no matter how bad, how big or small it is. We can always figure something out. … I’m human too. I’m Native too. I care.”