ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque Police Department — already under federal investigation and in court after a string of police shootings — will get a new chief later this year.
Ray Schultz on Friday announced plans to retire from the department he has guided for eight years under two mayors, one a Democrat, the other a Republican.
The announcement comes just days after a handful of city councilors said it was time for Albuquerque to find a new chief. It also came a few hours before a state district court jury awarded more than $10 million in damages to the family of a man shot by police.
But Schultz said his retirement had been in the works for months — that he had informed city executives in January of his plan to step down in the summer or fall.
In a letter released Friday, the chief said “a true leader knows when it is the proper time to step aside and let the next generation continue the mission. I will work with you to determine how best to transition to a new leadership team.”
Mayor Richard Berry, who re-appointed Schultz after taking office in 2009, thanked the chief for his service and said he enjoyed working with him.
“I have been impressed with his ability as an innovator and as a leader who cares deeply about this city and his department,” Berry said in a written statement.
The department and Schultz have been under intense scrutiny for the past two and a half years. Among the issues: City police have shot at 28 men since 2010, striking 25 and killing 18; several officers have been fired over use of force incidents, while others have not; other types of misconduct including offensive comments posted on social networking websites; and millions of dollars in taxpayer money spent on defending police officers and paying people who have sued APD.
Berry said he, Schultz and Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry will take questions on Monday to discuss the future of the department.
At least one city councilor, Ken Sanchez, said he hopes to ask voters this fall to approve a City Charter amendment requiring council confirmation for Albuquerque’s police and fire chiefs. But that will be too late, he said, to affect Schultz’s immediate replacement.
In any case, City Council President Dan Lewis described Schultz’s decision to retire as “courageous.” Lewis was among three councilors this week who said the chief ought to go.
“Despite all that the department and city have been through I believe he is turning (over) to the next chief a better department,” Lewis said. “Ray Schultz should be honored for his service.”
Greg Weber, president of the police officers’ union, called Schultz “one of the most innovative, forward thinking, and hardworking police chiefs in the country” and thanked him for his service.
“However, this is a very tumultuous time for the Albuquerque Police Department and our members do feel it is time for a new leader,” Weber said in a written statement. “We hope to continue working with Chief Schultz during the transition and look forward to working with his successor to tackle the issues of morale and manpower plaguing this department.”
No specific date
Schultz didn’t say precisely when he expects to retire. He suggested that he wants to stick around to help the U.S. Department of Justice in the “fact finding portion” of an investigation it announced in November.
That work should be done in early summer, Schultz said.
“I know that my institutional knowledge will be important to ensure that the investigative team has all of the information that they need,” he said in his letter.
The Justice Department is investigating whether APD has a pattern of violating people’s civil rights, specifically through officers’ use of force. It’s also looking at whether department brass does enough to police its own officers.
Police shootings have drawn intense scrutiny in recent years. Officers have shot at 28 men since 2010, striking 25 and killing 18.
In June 2011, state District Judge Theresa Baca issued a scathing opinion that said, in part, that the department’s training is “designed to result in the unreasonable use of deadly force.”
Hired after scandal
Then-Mayor Martin Chávez appointed Schultz in 2005 after a scandal involving APD’s evidence room. Schultz arrived from Scottsdale, Ariz., where he had gone and was serving as deputy chief after beginning his career in Albuquerque.
He made tackling property crime a priority and has won accolades from the business community.
Crime in Albuquerque has steadily trended downward since 1997, with decreases nearly every year since then, mirroring 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 crime statistics, which the city has yet to release, to show another increase in 2012.
In recent years, Schultz’s supporters say he’s made the department a leader in the use of new technology.
Last year, for example, he ordered officers to use lapel cameras to record every call for service they are dispatched to. Earlier this month, the city opened a video command center that uses live camera feeds to provide real-time information to officers in the field.
Civil liberties advocates have expressed concerns about the “Real Time Crime Center,” saying it leaves in the hands of a troubled police department a tremendous amount of data gathering potential that could lead to privacy and other problems.
Darren White, who was Schultz’s boss as public safety director from 2009-11, praised Schultz’s 31-year career in law enforcement and called him one of the best in the country. Schultz was White’s first sergeant when White began at APD.
“It was a privilege to work with him,” White said. “… He’s one of the best chiefs in the country, and he has an incredible amount of vision.”
Perry, the city’s top administrator under Mayor Berry, said Schultz made “our police department a model for ingenuity and smart policing.”
Kenneth Ellis Jr., whose son was shot and killed by police and was the subject of Friday’s jury award, said he had “mixed emotions” but was glad to see Schultz go.
“The chief said early on that he took these problems at APD as a challenge,” Ellis said. “Apparently, he’s decided it’s too much of a challenge for him. Then again, it’s hard to fix a problem when you are the problem.”
Mike Gomez, who is suing APD over the fatal shooting of his son Alan in 2011, credited the city councilors who called for Schultz to be replaced.
“The councilors stepped up, and that couldn’t be taken lightly,” Gomez said. “… For all the victims’ families, and for the whole city, hopefully this is a step forward in trying to get some accountability in city government and in the Police Department.”
How the city will go about replacing Schultz isn’t clear. The mayor, who is empowered to hire and fire the police chief, is up for re-election in October.
“I hope that (Berry) is diligent in his search for a new chief,” Councilor Sanchez said. “There are so many issues that we’re dealing with. … I think there needs to be somebody with a vast amount of experience and knowledge and a great understanding of police work.”
Pete Dinelli, a mayoral candidate and former public safety director at City Hall, said Schultz should leave immediately.
By “leaving his retirement date open-ended,” Dinelli said, “the people of Albuquerque are left to wonder if this is a mere public relations stunt, or a real attempt to put the last few years of the mismanaged Berry police department behind us.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal