Mayor Richard Berry’s administration defended the Albuquerque Police Department on Thursday, a day after the City Council president and another councilor said the city needs a new police chief.
Mayoral spokeswoman Dayna Gardner released a written statement but didn’t mention Chief Ray Schultz by name.
“We respect the right of everyone to have their opinion, including City Councilors,” she said. “In light of the fact that FBI crime statistics have reached 20 year lows during this administration coupled with the fact that APD just finished their second full year with less than average officer involved shootings speaks to a department that has made adjustments and progress.”
Gardner added that because “this is a complex issue and there are still challenges and work to be done, Mayor Berry will continue to analyze the situation on an ongoing basis as he has always done.”
The administration’s statement came a day after City Council President Dan Lewis and Councilor Isaac Benton said in Journal interviews that they believe Albuquerque needs a new chief. Lewis is a Republican, Benton a Democrat.
The Police Department has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, partly over the number of people shot and killed by officers.
In November, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation into whether APD has a pattern of violating people’s civil rights, specifically through officers’ use of force, and whether department brass sufficiently polices officers.
Crime in Albuquerque has steadily trended downward since 1997, with decreases nearly every year since then. That mirrors national trends.
But Albuquerque bucked U.S. crime trends between 2010 and 2011, with a 5 percent increase. Violent crime, however was down slightly, and despite the overall bump, 2011 saw the second fewest crimes in the city of any year since 1992.
Schultz has said he expects another increase from 2011 to 2012, but APD has not released official crime numbers. The Journal has a pending public records request for the 2012 crime statistics.
In interviews this week, the council appeared divided on whether Schultz ought to remain chief. At least three councilors – Lewis, Benton and Rey Garduño – said it’s time for a change. Councilor Trudy Jones expressed support for the chief’s work.
The remaining councilors who could be reached said they either were not ready to announce an opinion or that the decision is the mayor’s, not theirs. Here’s a closer look:
♦ Brad Winter, the senior member of the council, said Thursday that it’s important to avoid an “emotional” decision and that he’s heard few complaints. He said he will review crime statistics before making any further comment.
“My constituents want to be safe in their home, and they want their property to be safe,” said Winter, a Republican from the Northeast Heights. “I haven’t had many folks in my district complain about the Police Department or the chief.”
♦ Councilor Don Harris said the chief isn’t under the council’s control.
“The (City) Charter puts that decision in the hands of the mayor,” Harris said Thursday. “I would like to stay out of it.”
♦ Garduño said Thursday that he agrees APD needs a new chief. He’s been concerned for years, he said, about transparency in the city’s Independent Review Office and Police Oversight Commission.
Schultz “could have weighed in long ago on some of these concerns,” Garduño said.
The IRO is autonomous and works under direction of the POC.
♦ Councilor Ken Sanchez said he would like to see city rules changed to give the council confirmation power over the appointment of a chief. As for whether Schultz should stay on, “that’s a decision for the mayor to make,” Sanchez said.
♦ Earlier this week, Lewis and Benton said the department ought to have a new chief. Jones said Schultz has made the department a leader in the use of technology and made other improvements. Roxanna Meyers said she didn’t have any immediate comment.
♦ Councilor Michael Cook didn’t return calls for comment Wednesday and Thursday.
Journal staff writer Jeff Proctor contributed to this report
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal