ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — He was brought in as a reformer. A former Albuquerque police officer who then-Mayor Marty Chavez lured back from Scottsdale, Ariz., to clean up a police department rocked by low morale, scandal and intense media scrutiny.
Things were so bad, officers gleefully honked their horns across the city in 2005 as news spread of the sudden resignation of the unpopular police chief, Gilbert Gallegos.
But eight years later, despite significant drops in crime in New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz will take his leave this week under his own cloud of bad morale, a string of scandals and intense scrutiny — this time by the media and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Schultz insists his departure is not linked to the Justice Department investigation of alleged civil rights violations and questionable police shootings, union surveys or pressure from Mayor Richard Berry.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I decided that the timing was right,” Schultz told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this year. “I’ve got a daughter who is about to get married and a son who is about to be deployed to Japan” as a U.S. Navy pilot.
Since 2010, the city has seen more than two dozen officer-involved shootings — 19 of them fatal, although those numbers have slowed in apparent response to police reforms in 2011 and 2012.
The department also has been plagued by allegations of excessive force, including several cases caught on video. And several officers have been reprimanded for questionable social media postings, including one by an officer involved in a fatal shooting who described his occupation as “human waste disposal.”
Jewel Hall, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center Board and a vocal critic of the department, said despite improvements that have been cited under Schultz, officers’ behavior and the high number of police shootings are things that will always haunt the outgoing police chief’s legacy. “He’s not to be blamed completely for of that,” Hall said. “But he is the fall person.”
Darren White, a friend of Schultz who previously served as Albuquerque’s director of public safety, said the shootings affected the chief so much that his health declined while in office. “The man didn’t sleep,” White said. “I don’t care who was chief of police during the time of these shooting. It was a difficult time. But he took full responsibility.”
Then, last week, Schultz drew fire for comments made to KOB-TV when asked about infidelity in the police ranks highlighted in a recent trial. Levi Chavez, a former Albuquerque officer, admitted to a string of affairs with Albuquerque officers while married to a woman who was later found dead from a gunshot wound. Chavez was acquitted of murdering his wife, but the case drew attention to behavior in the department.
“In law enforcement, you’ve got young, good-looking folks that do this job,” Schultz told the station. “That’s our target group of employees — 20-, 30-, 40-year-old men and women. We ask them to stay in good shape. There’s nature at play.”
City Council President Dan Lewis said Schultz should have said adultery is not OK and that officers should be held “to a higher standard than that.”
Still, Schultz is leaving his position after overseeing 30-year-lows in some crime categories. He has been credited with introducing high-tech policing tools within the department and launching aggressive public campaigns targeting property crimes, once epidemic in Albuquerque.
“He improved our technology with new police cars, going to Tasers,” said Stephanie Lopez, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, a union that has been critical of Schultz in recent months. “Definitely, training was a step up” under Schultz.
But the excitement of having someone from the ranks leading the department faded over time for officers when Schultz “became more of a politician,” Lopez said.
Lopez said many officers feel that their “integrity was questioned” with the introduction of lapel cameras, something required by Schultz amid the pending federal probe. Officers also felt Schultz did not back them during internal investigations, Lopez said. “Our word is no longer any good,” she said.
Despite those controversies, White said Schultz should walk out of the department “with his head held high” and with pride over staying in the job close to a decade when most chiefs of police barely last three years.
“He is a good man. He has a good heart,” White said. “I hope he stays in law enforcement because he has a great mind and he is an innovative thinker.”