City Council President Dan Lewis says Albuquerque needs a new police chief in the wake of a federal investigation into the department and other controversy that has “engulfed and tarnished” the reputation of APD.
In a Journal interview Wednesday, Lewis said Chief Ray Schultz is a good, hard-working man who can make some changes, “but he cannot change the negative perception that this mess has left behind.”
At least one other councilor, Isaac Benton, also said it’s time for a new chief. Lewis is a Republican, Benton a Democrat.
Councilor Trudy Jones expressed support for the chief. Five other councilors didn’t return telephone calls Wednesday, and Councilor Roxanna Meyers said she didn’t have an immediate comment.
“We have to rebuild the morale and reputation of APD and the trust of the people that they serve,” Lewis said. “We don’t have to complicate this. Albuquerque needs a new police chief.”
Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican, was traveling and unavailable for comment, a spokeswoman said.
Schultz, in a written statement, said he is proud of the work performed by the men and women of the department and proud to wear the same badge and uniform.
“All I can say is that I continue to work hard for the citizens of Albuquerque each and every day,” he said. “I have dedicated most of my adult working life to the Albuquerque Police Department, often giving up personal and family time in order to meet the around the clock demands of being a police chief in a major metropolitan police department.”
Schultz was first appointed chief by then-Mayor Martin Chávez in 2005, and Berry kept him on after taking office in 2009.
APD’s problems have been the focus of intense scrutiny for more than 2 1/2 years.
Among the issues: City police have shot at 28 men since 2010, striking 25 and killing 18; several officers have been fired over use of force incidents, while others have not; other types of misconduct including offensive comments posted on social networking websites that netted lesser punishments; a union scandal involving potentially misspent dues money; and millions of dollars in taxpayer money spent on defending police officers and paying people who have sued APD.
The chief’s supporters say he has made Albuquerque a leader in the deployment of technology to fight crime and improve public safety. The city, for example, opened a video command center recently that uses live camera feeds to provide real-time information to officers in the field.
Jones, a Republican, said Schultz “has brought us a long ways” during his tenure.
“This chief has added huge technological expertise to APD,” Jones said. Some of his efforts are “obviously being studied and copied by police departments all over the country.”
Benton’s evaluation was far less positive. He said the council may discuss a no-confidence vote and that, regardless, it’s “absolutely” time for a new chief.
“It’s nothing personal,” Benton said. “We’ve had two administrations with nothing but problems, and the only consistent thread there is Ray Schultz.”
Lewis said he had “no comment” on whether Schultz should voluntarily step down or if the mayor ought to force him out.
Schultz is part of the Berry administration and isn’t hired or fired by the council.
Jones said the mayor controls the job, and “it’s not my position to tell the mayor how to handle that.”
Meyers, a Republican, said she couldn’t comment in detail until she had time to consider the issue more carefully. “It’s an important topic,” she said
Schultz said he and other officers have met with some councilors to try to address their concerns.
“Both myself and my staff have met with some members of City Council in order to continue to improve relations and operations between the department and community,” Schultz said. “This has been and continues to be our number one goal.”
He added that he would “hope that Councilor Lewis could someday make time to speak with me about his concerns, ideas and suggestions.”
Lewis said he’s always been open to talking to the chief and did so late Wednesday.
Schultz, a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Virginia, has been a keynote speaker at conferences on topics such as collaboration between police and the business community. He is also a member of the Police Executive Research Forum, known as PERF, a national group of law-enforcement executives that studies trends in police work and often does studies for agencies.
But his department has also faced intense criticism, partly over the shootings. Tearful family members and activists speak repeatedly at City Council meetings about the shootings. They also call for Schultz to be fired.
In November, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a top-to-bottom investigation into whether APD has a pattern of violating people’s civil rights, specifically through officers’ use of force, and whether department brass sufficiently polices officers.
Two state District Court judges have ruled in civil court that APD shootings were unlawful. In June 2011, Judge Theresa Baca issued a scathing opinion saying, in part, that the department’s training is “designed to result in the unreasonable use of deadly force.”
And Judge Shannon Bacon last month ruled that an officer’s shooting of an Iraq war veteran who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder was excessive force as a matter of law. A jury trial in that shooting is continuing this week.
Berry and Schultz point out that since May 2011, APD has made more than 60 changes. About 40 of those came after the city paid PERF, a national law enforcement think tank of which Schultz is a prominent member, $60,000 to review its use-of-force policies. Among the group’s recommendations APD has implemented was that a supervisor be sent to potentially volatile scenes to slow them down.
And the chief himself ordered nearly 20 more changes to department policies, including requiring all officers to record every citizen encounter on a lapel-mounted camera.
The head of the police union concurred with Lewis and Benton.
“Based on our survey, yes, the officers are asking for a change,” Greg Weber, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, said in a telephone interview, adding that he wasn’t sure Lewis and the union shared the same concerns about Schultz. “But our survey, which has largely been ignored by the administration, speaks for itself.”
Two weeks before the Justice Department announced its investigation of APD in November, the APOA released some of the results of the survey conducted for the union by a private company.
About 450 officers responded, nearly half the force. Fifty percent said Mayor Richard Berry should fire Schultz; 80 percent said they disapproved of Schultz’s leadership of the department; and all but three officers said morale at APD was low.
The chief pointed to the 93 percent of officers who responded by saying that they wanted Berry to honor pay raises that were agreed upon when Martin Chávez was mayor. Schultz said that response was evidence that officers’ negative impressions of his job performance and department morale were “about money.”
Berry said the city simply couldn’t afford the raises Chávez had agreed to.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal