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Geier named permanent APD chief

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

After reviewing applications from more than two dozen candidates from across the country, the Mayor’s Office decided the best choice was close to home.

Michael Geier has been selected to serve as Albuquerque Police Department’s chief, Mayor Tim Keller’s office announced Wednesday.

Geier has served as interim chief since December.

Keller told a news conference that Geier, 65, was the best candidate to combat crime, reform the department and improve relations between police and the community. During his career, Geier worked as a police officer in the Chicago area for 20 years, working his way up the ranks to lieutenant, before spending another 20 years as a police officer with APD. He then became chief of Rio Rancho police and left the position in February 2017.

Geier said in an interview Wednesday that he wants his current position to be his final job before retirement.

“I think this is where I’m going to stay and retire from,” he said. “I want to have a successful plan here so that when I do retire in Albuquerque, I know there are people in place who will do better than I can.”

Geier said he decided to make a push to become the permanent chief after seeing how motivated the department’s officers are. He said traffic stops were up 51 percent compared with the same time period in 2017 and that most crimes, other than murder, are down significantly in 2018 compared to this time last year.

While he addresses crime in the city, Geier will continue to work on police reforms. The Albuquerque Police Department is in the midst of a yearslong reform effort brought on by a Department of Justice investigation that found the department had a pattern of excessive force.

‘A new APD’

“I’m taking this responsibility with my eyes wide open,” Geier said. “There was an APD that was an old APD (that had) an old way of doing things that led to mistrust from the community. Now there is a new APD and a new way of doing things. … We’re going to be more aggressive in fighting crime, but we also will acknowledge our mistakes.”

A five-member search committee reviewed applications from 28 officers across the country before recommending Geier. Some of the applicants will be considered for other leadership positions at APD, Keller said.

Keller’s decision to hire Geier still has to be approved by the City Council, which is expected to vote on the appointment Monday.

“There was always this idea that there was some magical person who could be all things to all people and be a new police chief in Albuquerque. People would say, ‘(The police chief would) have to have done all the DOJ reforms, and they’d have to be respected by front-line officers, and they also have to be from outside Albuquerque, but they also have to know Albuquerque,’ ” Keller said. “The amazing thing about that is the closest person to that is Chief Geier.”

Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque police union, said Geier’s experience as a regular cop and as a police administrator made him the right choice.

“There’s not very many people who are in the profession of policing in New Mexico who don’t have a lot of respect for Geier,” Willoughby said. “He came back after having a successful career and retiring … and joined (the APD) academy and shaved his head and got top cadet in that class. Geier is an actual police officer. He’s got a habit of calling balls balls and strikes strikes.”

In a news release, the Mayor’s Office said it interviewed four people in person, including Geier. The other three were Keith Humphrey, chief of police in Norman, Okla.; Jeronimo Rodriguez, chief of investigations in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and a former high-ranking officer for Baltimore police; and Perry Tarrant, assistant chief of police in Seattle.

The Journal submitted an Inspection of Public Records Act request for the list of job applicants on May 30, and the city had not produced them by Wednesday evening.

Familiarity counts

Keller said he did consider hiring an outside police chief.

“What would the world look like with a brand-new fresh chief? Let’s just think about that for a minute,” Keller said. “They’d have to get up to speed on all the DOJ reforms that have taken years to get into place. They’d have to get to know our community, one of the most diverse and unique communities in the entire country, and on top of that they’d have an urgent crime problem.”

The timing of Geier’s selection raised concerns with APD Forward, a coalition of community groups active in the reform effort. The city started advertising for the job May 1.

“We were surprised at the compressed time frame, and we’re really wondering about that,” said Nancy Koenigsberg, legal director for Disability Rights New Mexico and a member of APD Forward. “It still seems like that it was a pretty compressed time frame, and we hope that it was a full and thorough vetting of the best candidates for the job.”

But Koenigsberg said she and other people in APD Forward have been impressed with Geier’s commitment to police reform during his first six months on the job.

“We will hold him to accountability just like we would any other person,” she said.

James Ginger, the independent monitor overseeing the police reform effort, has said publicly that he’s noticed a “sea change” for the better within the department since the new administration took office in December.

Joanne Fine, a member of the police oversight board, said her group’s work, which includes signing off on independent investigations into citizen complaints against officers and reviewing police policies, has been much smoother under Geier than the former police administration.

Fine said she’s known Geier for years.

“I wondered if (Geier) was going to be strong enough and forthright and clear on bad behavior as needed,” she said. “I know he’s a good man and knows how to run a department. I was just worried about that, and I’ve been impressed.”

Geier currently makes about $155,000, but Keller said it’s likely he will get a raise now that he has been named the permanent chief.

“Chief Geier has already begun to make progress toward reforming APD and re-establishing community policing strategies,” Keller said in a prepared statement. “He also understands that there’s still a lot of work left to do.”

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