Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
The sitting sheriff says citizens are fed up with crime but satisfied with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office.
His challenger in the Nov. 6 election says the current sheriff is letting his deputies rely on outdated policies that he will update, if elected.
Voters have two longtime lawmen to choose from when they head to the polls to pick the next sheriff: Democrat Manuel Gonzales, the incumbent who spent his career working up the ranks of the BCSO, earning the rank of captain before he was appointed sheriff and later was elected to the position; and Republican Lou Golson, a career cop who worked in various units of the Albuquerque police until he was shot in the line of duty and forced into light duty until his retirement.
Both are vying to be the head of the largest Sheriff’s Office in the state in the most populated county. Sheriff’s deputies mainly patrol unincorporated parts of the county such as the South Valley and East Mountains, but have jurisdiction throughout Bernalillo County.
The most obvious difference is their contrasting positions on requiring deputies to wear body cameras: Golson says he would implement such a system to increase transparency and accountability while Gonzales has rejected the use of the cameras, saying he favors dash cams on vehicles.
Gonzales said during his tenure the office has expanded its footprint within the city limits of Albuquerque by doing special patrols and enforcement activities in some of the highest crime areas. He said he wants to continue to increase his office’s presence in the city.
“When we’re in the city, (the Albuquerque Police Department’s) calls for service go down. They love us,” Gonzales said. “I go to many neighborhood associations in the city and many of those citizens are screaming for help. I believe those citizens are in a very desperate situation in terms of wanting to get these criminals off the street.”
But Golson contends the current administration allows reckless behavior of some employees and shows a lack of transparency. He said he would work on retraining personnel, ensure that all personnel and resources are in the proper place to serve the community and that the department conforms with the standards of transparency to maintain the trust of the community.
During Gonzales’ term as sheriff, county commissioners have raised concerns about an increasing number of claims against the county involving actions by the Sheriff’s Office.
There was also a significant increase in the number of car chases involving deputies – the number rocketed from 11 in 2016 to 74 in 2017. In one such pursuit, a 66-year-old man was killed after being struck by a suspected car thief deputies were chasing at Broadway and Avenida Cesar Chavez SE on a weekday morning.
Gonzales also saw his deputies get involved in a spate of nine shootings over a four-and-a-half-month period last year.
Golson said new, updated policies are needed, but Gonzales defends his policies and says the increase in chases and shootings is a result of increased violent crime.
One particular lawsuit filed in response to a deputy chase and fatal shooting accused the sheriff of giving preferential treatment to his undersheriff’s son, who fired the shots that killed the driver and an unarmed passenger.
Gonzales denied he treats any deputies differently than others.
“That’s just defense attorneys who want to hold trials and suits in the court of public opinion,” Gonzales said. “I would never compromise what’s right. I know the truth, that will prevail.”
But after the increase in claims, the County Commission funded a review of pursuit and use-of-force policies. The report recommended the sheriff make at least 22 changes to those two policies.
Gonzales said he read the report once and will revisit the recommendations after the election. But he said that overall, the review showed the Sheriff’s Office under his direction has policies that promote constitutional policing.
Golson said the lack of body cameras used by sheriff’s deputies is just one clear example of policies that are outdated and should be improved. He said he will put on-body cameras on deputies, if elected.
“It’s become a national standard to use them. I wasn’t a fan of them when we first started because they were a pain and they become a toy in court. But it’s a transparency issue,” Golson said. “It shows you’re not afraid to put anything out there – good, bad or indifferent.”
Gonzales has said using lapel cameras is “ambiguous and costly,” and he would prioritize spending money on hiring more deputies, instead. He said he also thinks dashboard cameras could be expanded throughout the Sheriff’s Office.
Both candidates said that if elected, they would work to improve relationships among city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Gonzales said in his next term he will put more deputies in schools and that he is committed to consolidating law enforcement services to reduce duplication of resources.
Golson said if elected he’ll make changes to the deputies’ training and office policies, especially those that govern use of force and vehicle pursuits.
Gonzales served in the Marine Corps before joining the Sheriff’s Office in 1989. He worked his way up the ranks and was appointed sheriff in 2009, when the sitting sheriff retired. He ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in 2010 before winning the seat in 2014.
Golson in 1977 began working for the U.S. Air Force Security Police and was assigned to Kirtland Air Force Base, where he worked until he left the Air Force in 1983. He joined Albuquerque police the next year. Golson held the rank of officer throughout his career and spent all but one year patrolling the streets, specializing in drunken driving enforcement.
He’s said he had planned to continue working as a DWI officer. But in early 2015 he stopped a suspected drunken driver on San Mateo NE just north of Montgomery. As he approached the vehicle, the suspect shot Golson four times and fled. The suspect was arrested several days later and has since been convicted and sentenced to prison.
Because he spent most of his career work on the streets and not as a police administrator, Golson said he’ll look for experts with experience on the administrative side of policing when selecting his command staff.
“I think that is something that every department head needs. They need experience,” he said. “If you remove yourself too far from the (operational) side of it you lose sight of what your goals are.”
Q-and-A’s online: To find out a candidate’s positions on key issues, go to ABQJournal.com/election2018. The site also includes links to Journal stories on statewide, legislative and county-level races, district maps, key election dates and other voter resources. It will be updated regularly with new candidate profile stories and other information.