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Editorial: Chief Rael’s legacy: Success where it counts

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Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael, who announced last week that he’s retiring for good, doesn’t seem to have too many friends – at least in public life.

The police union doesn’t like him, judging from the negative results of a membership survey in 2013; over the past couple of years, a group of City Council members wanted to fire him; and now as Rael moves into retirement, the new mayor is talking about possibly reversing one of Rael’s hardest-fought changes in the Police Department.

We don’t have any particular insight into Rael’s people skills, whether his problem is that he’s not soft and warm enough or if he brings too much of his U.S. Marine Corps background into managing the department or solving the mysteries of City Hall politics.

But the bottom line is that Rael’s short tenure – he took over as chief about three years ago – was a success.

Santa Fe’s worst crime problem, burglary, took a big hit with Rael at the helm. Burglary numbers last year were the lowest in a decade and probably the lowest per capita since any kind of decent records have been kept. This in a town that for years has had some of the worst burglary statistics in the country.

So we hope Mayor Gonzales and a new City Council will use prudence and care before there’s a move to start messing with success and dismantling Rael’s legacy.

His most controversial move was to change police officer workweeks from four 10-hour shifts to five eight-hour shifts, over strong objections from the rank and file, who preferred three-day weekends.

Rael says the move put more cops on the street and saved the city money in overtime expenses.

He’s also alleged that officers started abusing sick leave as a result of the shift change. (One report that purported to debunk the chief’s assertion could also be read as showing police sick leave really did drop after Rael raised heck about it.)

The police union calls any suggestion that officers misused sick leave ridiculous.

In any case, Rael brought a sterner hand to cases of alleged police misconduct. He instituted a zero-tolerance policy for wrongdoing such as domestic violence, sexual offenses and driving drunk, and didn’t wring his hands before firing officers for DWI or allegedly falsifying reports.

Rael also brought in an outsider to head internal affairs investigations, a logical move that should have happened long ago.

He hasn’t always taken the tough-guy approach – he and others have been working on a program to divert some drug offenders into treatment.

The day Rael announced his retirement, Mayor Gonzales said he was willing to consider undoing the workweek change that Rael pushed through. That apparently would make the police rank and file happy. But the most important issues are public safety and reducing crime, and that’s where Ray Rael made an impact.

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