ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mayor Richard Berry on Monday told reporters that embattled Police Chief Ray Schultz will remain in his post through July – and that Schultz is not being pushed out or running away from anything.
Berry said he will appoint an interim chief this summer and begin a national search for someone to permanently lead APD’s roughly 960 officers. The mayor said he will not name a permanent chief unless he wins re-election to a second term at City Hall in the fall.
During a brief interview with KOAT-TV and the Journal, Schultz said he is stepping down after eight years at the helm of APD to attend to family concerns and because he passed a milestone this month: 30 years with the department.
Schultz insisted his decision was not tied to the numerous controversies swirling around his department – including a federal investigation – or calls for new leadership from community activists, city councilors and the police union.
During Monday’s interview, Schultz reiterated what he had written in his letter last week: that the decision was at least two months in the making.
“It was a matter of timing,” he said, adding that he had started looking at his options late last year, knowing that he was coming up on his 30-year anniversary with APD.
“I’ve got a daughter getting married this summer. I’ve got a son being deployed in the military this summer,” he said. “My dad is by himself – I lost my mom about 1 1/2 years ago, and I wanted to spend some more time with him. He has a surgery coming up this summer, so, just kinda the timing. I accomplished a lot of the things I wanted to get accomplished.”
The mayor defended the man he reappointed as police chief in 2009 after defeating Martin Chávez in the mayoral race that year. Chávez had hired Schultz as chief in April 2005.
He said Schultz is staying for a few more months to assist in a “smooth transition” and to continue working with the U.S. Department of Justice on its investigation.
“Chief’s not running away from anything,” Berry said. “This is about an orderly transition. If we were going to fire somebody and run them off, we would do that quickly. This is not that. This is about a great police department, a man who’s dedicated his life to this department and this city and making sure that we have this orderly transition.”
He said he would hire an outside firm to begin a national search for a permanent replacement before the election, but Berry said he won’t appoint anyone unless he wins re-election.
On Friday afternoon, a city spokeswoman issued a news release announcing Schultz’s plans to retire, hours before a Bernalillo County jury issued a $10.3 million judgment against the city for a 2010 fatal police shooting. It was one of the largest financial blows in APD history, and it followed a pretrial ruling by a judge that the shooting had been, as a matter of law, an excessive use of force.
Last Wednesday, City Council President Dan Lewis told the Journal it was time for Schultz to step aside and make way for a new boss at the state’s largest law enforcement agency.
Attached to the city’s news release was a letter the chief had written to city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry advising Perry of his plans to retire.
The letter was dated the same day Lewis had spoken to the Journal about the chief.
Whoever takes over for Schultz will inherit a department mired in controversy.
City police officers have shot at 28 men since 2010, striking 25 and killing 18. Some of those shot have suffered from mental illness – including the Iraq war veteran whose death ultimately led to the massive jury award last week – and APD has come under withering criticism for the shootings. Critics have called for Schultz’s resignation for more than two years.
Rank-and-file police officers who responded to a union survey last year said APD morale was low and that Schultz was not doing a good job as chief. Schultz responded by saying the union would not provide individual survey responses and that officers are unhappy because the budget shortfall kept them from getting raises promised by the previous administration.
Schultz has presided over other problems at APD, including what some say are deep-rooted cultural issues that can’t be fixed with the more than 50 policy reforms the chief has implemented since 2010.
Several officers have been fired over use of force incidents, while others have not. Other types of misconduct have included offensive comments posted on social networking websites that netted lesser punishments. And millions of dollars in taxpayer money have been spent on defending police officers and paying settlements and judgments.
In November, the U.S. Justice Department announced a sweeping civil rights investigation of APD. The probe is aimed at determining whether city officers have a pattern of violating the Constitution, in particular through the use of force, and whether APD brass has sufficient control over the department.
During Monday’s interview, neither Berry nor Schultz addressed questions from reporters about the negative headlines in recent years.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal