Are the wheels coming off at the highest levels of the Albuquerque Police Department?
It sure looks that way in light of recent events that portray department leadership as inept and dysfunctional, with a touch of possible corruption and administrative meddling by the Mayor’s Office thrown in for good measure.
The issues here range from riot planning to doggie doo – with a lot in between.
It took awhile, but APD finally released crucial information on how it planned to react, or mostly not, during the June 15 protest over the Juan de Oñate statue at the Albuquerque Museum that ended in chaos and gunfire.
Having learned little from taking a mostly hands-off approach to rioting and looting May 31 that still has much of Central Avenue Downtown boarded up with plywood (many preemptively to prevent damage), APD’s tactical plan had officers in riot control gear holding back, out of sight unless there was a threat to “life or if major property damage occurs.”
The kicker? The plan didn’t consider the Oñate statue by renowned artist Sonny Rivera to be property worth protecting. So in essence APD was fine with protesters armed with pickaxes and chains taking down the statue, so long as they didn’t try to set the museum on fire.
Of course that wasn’t OK with Oñate supporters and members of the so-called Civil Guard. A counterprotester, Steven Baca, eventually fired a handgun, seriously wounding a protester.
District Attorney Raul Torrez adds APD bungled the shooting investigation, and State Police have stepped in.
The responsibility for this debacle lands squarely at the doors of Chief Michael Geier, and the person who hired him, Mayor Tim Keller.
Meanwhile, a Journal story published Thursday by reporter Elise Kaplan – who also filed the public records requests and wrote the APD Oñate plan story – lays out a scenario that comes close to the “you can’t make it up” threshold.
Among other things, it involves allegations Geier’s chief of staff, John Ross, bypassed city rules to buy a $2,400 Apple laptop computer and a $200 Apple TV box that didn’t appear to have any work purpose. And, Geier said, he found out that Ross – who moved to APD with Geier from Rio Rancho – was trying to buy himself a ballistic vest from a vendor who hadn’t been approved yet.
Geier didn’t put Ross on administrative leave – as he should have – but ordered up an investigation, saying he believed Ross may have violated standard operating procedures along with altering or making false statements in reports and failing to safeguard department property.
Ross allegedly used Geier’s signature stamp – which now supposedly is locked up in the chief’s desk – to make purchases.
The person who dropped the dime on Ross was Geier’s secretary, Paulette Diaz, who for her troubles has been temporarily transferred to Animal Welfare and is lawyered up with a former APD officer-turned-attorney.
So Ross is still holding forth at headquarters while his accuser is over with the dogs. The city says it’s typical to move people administratively while such matters are being investigated, but that begs the question of why she was moved and Ross wasn’t.
The Ross-Geier-Diaz matter has a lot more to it. Diaz claims Ross wrangled himself a “significant” pay raise without the chief’s approval by lobbying Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair and says Keller and Nair gave Geier conflicting directives on how to address issues with Ross. According to the city website, Ross is now making about $140,000 a year, just $5,000 less than a deputy chief.
Geier, perhaps predictably, doesn’t recall signing off on the raise because he signs a lot of stuff, but in a memo he says he reminded Ross of earlier conversations about “the possible implications of receiving such a large raise.”
And then there is Sophie. That would be Ross’ dog, who according to a memo from Diaz, came to work with Ross because his wife wouldn’t let the pup stay at home. “The dog’s behavior became more unmanageable, and she was aggressive toward people, including employees and visitors,” Diaz wrote in a memo to the chief. “In addition, Sophie would poop and pee on the carpet in the offices.”
With all the above going on, why should the public have confidence this Keystone Kops-like leadership can do its job investigating two fatal shootings by officers in the past week?
APD performs perhaps the single most important function in city government. Public safety. And it has a budget of roughly $200 million and about 1,000 sworn officers to do its job. The rank-and-file on the mean streets of this city deserve so much better than they are getting from leadership.
Keller needs to step up and publicly say how his administration intends to right the ship at APD. Is he confident Geier is the right person to lead at this point? And is Geier even being allowed to lead, for that matter? Keller should say so, and clearly.
No more maneuvering. The City Council should weigh in as well.
These elected officials and Geier are accountable to the public. It’s past time for them to report to their bosses.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.