SPRINGVILLE — While most high school students worry about their homework loads or maintaining their GPAs, Craig Martinez worried about getting into trouble with police.
"I was quite the juvenile delinquent. I was always getting into shenanigans and causing problems. Especially (during) my teenage years in high school, I was drinking, smoking, doing everything that parents don't want their kids to do," he said.
Ironically, it was those brushes with the law that would lead him to a career in law enforcement — and now to becoming Springville's newest police chief.
"I have always had an interest in law enforcement, mostly because they were always chasing me around as a kid," Martinez told the Deseret News. "It looked like a cool job."
When the Spanish Fork native was 17 years old and two months away from graduating high school, he found out the news that changed the trajectory of his life: He was going to be a father.
"That was the catalyst for me to turn my life around and do something of myself. I was a teenage kid having a baby. I was obviously ill-equipped to take care of myself, much less someone else," he said.
Life quickly turned a new leaf for him and the news prompted him and his girlfriend to talk to their parents and decide that it would be best for him and his growing family to join the Marine Corps.
"My girlfriend and I got married. We actually just celebrated our 25th anniversary together. We've got three great kids," he said.
During this time, the couple was forced to grow up quickly, and after four years of serving in the Marine Corps, he looked for a career change.
He enrolled in a police academy at Utah Valley State College. His first job right out of the academy was working for the Utah Highway Patrol in Salt Lake City in 1998.
Because he had grown up in Utah County and spent a lot of time in Orem as a youth, he knew the Orem Police Department was the place where he wanted to end up.
After leaving his position at UHP, he began working for Orem’s police department in 2000 but left shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, which prompted him to join the Federal Air Marshal Service in Las Vegas.
"We decided shortly after I got that job about six or seven months in that Vegas was not the place where I wanted to raise my kids," he said.
Soon after the realization, he returned to Orem and got his job back. Since returning to the force in 2002, he's held multiple positions as a police officer, a public information officer and most recently a captain.
In total, he spent nearly 19 years with Orem's force before accepting the job as Springville’s new chief.
As public information officer, Martinez was known for occasional comedic posts through Orem Police Department's official Facebook page where he often enlisted the public’s help to identify potential suspects and follow up on leads.
Because of his strategic social media skills and sense of humor, he’s helped catch criminals simply by posting an image of them online in hopes that someone from the community would be able to identify them.
Martinez recalled a time where he caught a criminal this way after a string of fast-food armed robberies. In just five minutes, the man was identified by someone on social media.
"The majority of the time when we put it on Facebook we were able to identify them and get the case closed," he said.
Martinez's social media savviness and his ability to relate to people is something Orem Police Chief Gary Giles says he will miss.
“To have him leave Orem is a sad day, because he's been a great part of the Orem Police Department," said Giles, who worked with Martinez for nearly two decades. "I’m happy to be able to see him take over the city of Springville."
Giles said he looks forward to working with Martinez, not as an employee but as a peer.
“Craig had a real knack for connecting with people on social media, he just had a great personality and so he was able to make it grow," he said.
He helped grow Orem Police Department's Facebook page from 20,000 followers to 55,000.
“He would help people feel like they were a part of the police department,” he said.
It wasn't unusual for neighboring agencies to enlist the help of Martinez when it came to identifying suspects, Giles added.
Martinez said he’s not trying to make Springville’s police department like Orem, and he will work with another police officer to manage the department’s social media account.
“We're going to do our own thing here,” he said with confidence.
Martinez’s predecessor, J. Scott Finlayson, the longest-serving police chief in Springville's history, announced he was retiring in May after 23 years as chief.
During the hiring process for the position, Springville Mayor Rick Child called Martinez’s enthusiasm for the job “contagious.”
"He's a young man and he's got a ton of energy,” he said. “He's just really excited to be chief of police at this time in his life.”
Child said the job posting attracted more than 30 candidates, and Martinez’s familiarity with the area and relatability stood out.
"Every community has their own identity and their own little problems,” he said. “By having him here, he understands what the climate is and what the people are like in general and he can relate a lot to them."
At his own swearing-in ceremony, Childs said he looked forward to “a new era” of the Springville Police Department.
Earlier this month, dozens of community members, law enforcement officers from neighboring agencies, friends and family gathered to watch and celebrate the swearing-in ceremony of Springville's new chief.
"I think he's going to fit our mold here, and I think he fits in our community real well,” Child said.
Martinez called the hiring process quick, and after a week of interviews and background and reference checks, he was offered the job.
"I've always tried throughout my career to do things that would help me to begin this position one day. I'm very fortunate and very lucky that Springville opened up,” he said.
He added that everything leading up to his new role worked out in his favor and he’s glad to be back in a community with a hometown feel.
Martinez said he enjoys organizing and participating in community events that allow him to talk and meet people and children, and it’s an aspect of his career that will prepare him for his new role.
"That's one of those things I think I can naturally bring to Springville. Those community events give our officers the opportunity to get out there and be around and talk to the public when we're not called there," he said.
There’s a difference, he said, when police officers are invited to an event versus when they are called for service.
“When we respond to a call for service, a lot of times those people are having the worst days of their lives and we're coming in and sometimes we have to arrest someone or take some kind of enforcement action,” he said.
Now more than ever, he believes, police officers across the country need to be involved in the community.
“Ultimately that's who we work for and we want to build those relationships," Martinez said.
When it came to describing his leadership style, Martinez said he doesn't want to be put in a box. Leadership style has to be flexible.
"Depending on what situation you're dealing with and depending on the person that you're dealing with, I think your leadership style has to change," said Martinez, who will oversee 29 officers in Springville.
With his first Art City Days as police chief behind him, Martinez's next steps include getting to know his officers and their families, figuring out the direction they need to go as a department and getting input from everyone.
"I need to get to know Springville, and the department and the officers," he said.
Martinez said transporting at-risk youth while on the job to detention facilities, homes or the police departments allows him the opportunity to have down-to-earth conversations with them about life.Comment on this story
“Maybe it's stuff they've heard before, maybe it's not. But ultimately we've got our own experiences,” he said. “Each individual officer here in Springville, they grew up in different situations and different areas, and they bring their own aspect of life and childhood.”
Martinez said what he experienced as a youth is something he doesn’t want to see happening to others.
But he says he wouldn’t change a thing about his past and has made the best of every opportunity he’s encountered.
“It makes me the person I am today. I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “Look where I'm at now. I’m where I’ve always wanted to be.”