Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Four years ago, it came down to 376 people.
Sheriff Manuel Gonzales beat Sylvester Stanley in the Democratic primary for Bernalillo County sheriff in 2014 by a margin of 13,709 to 13,333.
Voters will have the same choice again this year. Gonzales, Stanley and candidate Joe Williams will be on the primary ballot in June.
“I thought I was finished. But after the race in 2014 was so close, I thought, ‘You know what. I’m going to give it one last go-around.’ It’s my ultimate goal to become sheriff of the department I spent 21 years on,” Stanley, who is running for the position for the fourth time, said in an interview.
“My goal is to attract all the people I did in 2014, plus (376) plus one. I’m trying to do everything I did and other things that I didn’t. I’m trying to make sure I’m not wasting any moment,” he said.
Gonzales said he will win because voters are satisfied with the deputies’ performance under his watch. He said citizen complaints against deputies are low and clearance rates are high, which means deputies solve cases.
“The citizens are satisfied with the professionalism in the department,” Gonzales said. “They want law enforcement services, and we provide the highest level of services.”
Both Gonzales and Stanley have military backgrounds and worked through the Sheriff’s Office ranks for 20 years. Both started on patrol and retired as captains.
Since leaving the Sheriff’s Office, Stanley has been a police chief for the Gallup, Isleta and the Jicarilla police departments.
Gonzales was appointed sheriff in 2009 by the County Commission, lost the 2010 election, then successfully ran for sheriff in 2014.
Williams is an outsider. He’s a licensed real estate broker and says he’s running to protect “private property owners.” How he will do that, he said, depends on what the situation is.
Williams said that, in recent years, he has had confrontations with Albuquerque police officers about property and animal issues, even though he lives in the county. He said frustrations in dealing with Albuquerque police led to his interest in running for sheriff.
“As sheriff, I’ll have more power to do things than as a licensed real estate broker,” he said.
The winner of the primary will face Republican candidate Lou Golson in the general election. Golson is a former Albuquerque police officer who retired after being seriously injured in the line of duty.
Golson was shot during a traffic stop in January 2015. He returned to work and did administrative tasks after the shooting but ultimately retired. He has been outspoken about having to deal with workers’ compensation issues and negotiating medical care with the city.
Golson and Stanley have been critical of some of the department’s policies under Gonzales.
Recently, county commissioners voted to hire an auditor to review Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures.
Part of the reason for the review is an increase in the number of claims against the department, and deputies were involved in nine shootings in a 4½-month span. Some of those shootings have led to lawsuits.
Gonzales said he welcomes a review, but he will make the final decisions for his department.
“They can’t call on anything for me as the sheriff. I’m the executive of the Sheriff’s Office. They are the legislative branch for the county,” Gonzales said of the commission. “They can’t impose anything on the Sheriff’s Office. There’s a separation of powers. They might be crossing and over-reaching their authority.”
Gonzales said that systems are already in place within the Sheriff’s Office to review policies and make sure they are aligned with what are considered the “best practices” in law enforcement.
“I’m willing to look at them. And the end of it, this is the thing, we may look at (the policies) and there will be absolutely nothing that is changed. On the other side of it, if there’s something there, we’ll re-evaluate it,” he said.
But Gonzales’ opponents in the race have, in particular, questioned the use of cameras under Gonzales. Sheriff’s deputies don’t wear on-body cameras, but Albuquerque police officers and agencies do use them.
In the wake of an increase in shootings by deputies, some have called on the department to adopt the technology.
“It’s an important asset to the department,” said Stanley, who as a police chief has had officers in his command use the cameras. “It helps reduce lawsuits, frivolous lawsuits. There’s still going to be lawsuits, but when you have a recording of the incident from beginning to end, it shows if there’s no wrongdoing by deputies. People think twice before they sue the department.”
Gonzales said he’s not sold on the effectiveness of on-body cameras and wants to see studies or proof that they help policing before he suggests that deputies use them.
He also said he has questions about the privacy rights of individuals who are filmed with the cameras and whether wearing the cameras for an entire shift exposes a deputy to potential harm like radiation.
Gonzales did say he is in favor of expanding cameras on deputy’s dashboards. Currently, the department’s DWI officers use dashboard cameras.
But Gonzales said he is planning to expand their use to deputies who patrol freeways and deputies who have been involved in a high number of vehicle pursuits. Then he might possibly roll them out for the rest of field services, he said.
Gonzales said he’s confident that the vote will show that people think he’s making the best decisions for the county.
“It’s an elected office. The people elect the sheriff into office. There’s no public oversight,” Gonzales said. “I’ve made that very clear. I tell, whether it be the media, other elected officials, activists, if they want to have oversight of the Sheriff’s Office … I encourage you to run for office.”