New detention center security chief believes communication is key

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Maj. Carlos Ortiz, left, created a Special Operations Response Team to deal with situations at the jail. He said they function much like a SWAT team.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

The Curry County Adult Detention Center’s new chief security officer believes communication is the key to safety.

Maj. Carlos Ortiz has been in his position almost a month now, responsible for overseeing all security operations at the jail.

“A lot of problems can be solved by talking,” he said, explaining detention officers have to learn that communication among staff, inmates, administration and the public are all vital to being in tune with and ensuring the safety of the facility.

Too often, detention officers lose sight of their role and that is where problems can originate, he said.

“The courts actually do the punishing. All we do is make sure (the inmates are) safe and secure and society’s safe,” he said.

“We’re just here to make sure they do their time and the community’s safe.”

Viewing himself in a mentor role, Ortiz said he took the position because he wanted to share his experiences with staff and turn the Curry County jail into a role model facility that others look to for guidance.

“I wanted to get down to the ground floor and teach the younger people coming up,” he said.

“I think the Curry jail can be one of those that people come to, to learn stuff. We’ve got the right people in place, we’ve just got to get the training.”

Ortiz, 42, has about 20 years experience in corrections security, a majority of which he said he gained working for the Texas prison system.

The last nine years, Ortiz has worked as a private consultant, helping facilities streamline and improve their security.

With a history of problems including the escape last year of eight of the county’s most violent inmates — one a convicted child killer who remains at large — Curry County’s jail provides a challenge.

But Ortiz said he believes the challenge is one that can be overcome and all the pieces are in place for success.

“I’ve helped other county jails and prisons deal with the same issues,” he said. “The biggest thing is you’ve got good support from the commissioners, the jail committee, the sheriff, the community… they’ve got all the support, so it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

Ortiz said he has spent the last few weeks familiarizing himself with the facility, getting to know the staff and the inmates and the community.

He said he is focused on getting staff the training they need and the skills to accomplish their task.

Recently, Ortiz said he created and began training a Special Operations Response Team to be called into action if anything goes wrong at the jail. Consisting of detention officers who are specially trained to resolve acute issues, Ortiz said the SORT team will function like a police SWAT unit within the jail.

Detention Administrator Lois Bean said Ortiz has already proven himself valuable to her team.

“He’s been very instrumental in the last three weeks gaining the loyalty and support of the detention officers,” she said.

“He has mainly stepped in and given me a big hand in enhancing our training.”

Bean said the plan is for Ortiz to implement more training, including sending officers to other facilities to learn first-hand the best techniques to keep the jail secure and running smoothly.

“We’ve got a lot in store for this young man,” she said.