- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Six months into the job, the top FBI agent for New Mexico says strengthening relationships with other law enforcement agencies across the state - including tribal and local police departments - has emerged as a top priority.

The state’s national laboratories, vast reservations, public lands and 180 miles of border with Mexico together create a unique landscape for the federal agency.

They also come with a wide-ranging mandate on the New Mexico division now overseen by Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade, who was appointed to the position in December. Counterterrorism programs remain the agency’s number one priority across the country, including in New Mexico. Meanwhile, the agency also has launched a renewed push this year to combat opioid abuse, which remains an especially tough problem in New Mexico, where the overdose death rates are among the nation’s highest.

Still, investigations on both of those fronts and others depend on cooperation from local and tribal authorities and other federal agencies, said Wade, who circled back several times in a recent interview with The Associated Press to how building partnerships has been one of his most critical tasks since he was appointed to his new position in December.

“Not that in any way, the relationships were fractured or broken. But we can never stop improving our relationships with all of our partners,” he said.

In some cases, those relationships with other agencies have paid off, including with the investigation into a prison gang that authorities say targeted top officials within the Department of Corrections. The probe has recently yielded charges against numerous defendants.

State corrections officials were helpful in providing needed information to the FBI for the investigation, Wade said. He declined further comment on the investigation, citing ongoing court proceedings.

Wade - whose career with the FBI began in Montana in 1996 and has included moves from Oklahoma City to Washington, Baghdad and Los Angeles - returned in December to Albuquerque, where he previously oversaw several programs, including the SWAT team and counterterrorism efforts starting nearly a decade ago.

During his first stint in Albuquerque, he also had a part in establishing a forensics laboratory and training center at the University of New Mexico campus for handling digital evidence for investigations into child pornography, fraud, terrorism and other crimes. U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said the lab has helped with investigations over the past several years by allowing agencies to process evidence locally.

Any law enforcement agency in the state can access training and use the lab to examine digital evidence, according to the FBI.

“With him here previously, he’s familiar with New Mexico, the issues and a lot of the leadership in a lot of agencies,” Martinez said.

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