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National search for permanent APD chief underway

The city of Albuquerque is in the middle of a national search for a permanent police chief, who will hopefully be chosen by June, Mayor Tim Keller’s office announced Wednesday.

Interim Chief Michael Geier has held the position since the Keller administration took office in December and Geier said in an interview Wednesday that he plans to toss his name into the hat for the permanent position.

“I didn’t know where it was going to lead but as we’ve gotten more embedded in the job now, definitely I’m interested in staying for the long haul,” Geier said. “I just feel that I’ve kind of taken ownership of (the police department.) I feel like this was something that was meant to be.”

The city said in a news release that it has been getting advice from an outside consulting firm since March on a national search for the next head of the department, which has 1,500 employees and a budget of about $170 million.

The job posting said the right candidate should have an understanding of community policing programs, and U.S. Department of Justice consent decrees, crime prevention strategies and the Report on the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, among other qualifications.

During a news conference Wednesday, Keller discussed attributes he’s looking for in the city’s next top cop. He said he wants to do a nationwide search and also find a candidate who is already familiar with the community.

“We’ve got to have a chief that understands APD and Albuquerque,” Keller said. “That’s a general statement because I think that can come in numerous forms. I think that’s critical – they have to have some sort of experience with respect to our city, our state and the department. They also have to have some sort of outside perspective. We know that, coming in, we didn’t want someone that’s been solely in APD. They need to know a lot about community policing. It’s our administration’s priority and they’ve got to have expertise in that area.”

Geier has received high praise from the independent monitor overseeing a police reform effort that stemmed from a Department of Justice investigation that found Albuquerque police had a pattern of excessive force. James Ginger, the monitor, has said publicly there has been a “sea change” in how the department’s leaders have approached the reform effort under Geier compared with former Chief Gorden Eden.

Geier said he was also “cautiously optimistic” that the department has made strides to address the city’s crime rate under his watch. Most crimes were down in the first quarter of 2018, according to city statistics.

The city hired the firm Avtec for $10,000 to assist with the search for a chief and director of animal welfare, a spokeswoman for the mayor said. The city also launched a tab on the city’s website seeking the public’s feedback on the next police chief.

Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said he supported Geier applying for the permanent position. Willoughby said he wasn’t surprised the mayor is moving forward with a national search.

“He’s done a good job and we have confidence in his ability to lead,” Willoughby said. “The last thing we need is a police chief that has to come in and learn our policies, learn our contracts, learn the culture, learn the settlement agreement. That’s just going to put us further back.”

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