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New APD leader has decades of experience

Sylvester Stanley was appointed to the newly created position of superintendent of police reform earlier this month. He has worked in law enforcement for more than four decades and has served as police chief four times throughout the state. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

At the close of his first week in a freshly created position, Albuquerque’s interim superintendent of police reform says he has a lot to learn.

“I have a lot of intelligence gathering within the agency here,” Sylvester Stanley told the Journal on Friday. “And this is a team effort. So this is not just ‘I’m coming in and turning the thing upside down.’ I mean, that would not be productive.”

Stanley, 66, began his law enforcement career more than four decades ago, starting with the military police when he was stationed overseas in South Korea. After leaving the U.S. Army he moved to Junction City, Kansas, in 1976 and joined the police department.

Six years later, in 1982, he moved to New Mexico and took a position with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, where he moved up the ranks to captain before retiring in 2002.

Since then, Stanley has served as a police chief four times – in Isleta, Gallup, Jicarilla and Isleta again. He was let go from Isleta at the end of January after a change in administration.

That’s when, he said, he began seriously talking with city officials about the superintendent job.

“I think I had a lot to contribute to this,” Stanley said. “I just left the police chief job at Isleta, and I thought this is actually a pretty good way to sort of wrap up a long career at the end of the day, whenever that might happen. But I thought this would be good if I could have a major impact on the reform of the largest law enforcement agency in the state.”

In explaining the decision to create the position of superintendent of police reform, Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair have said the search for a police chief uncovered the community’s desire for both an insider and an outsider.

So, they said, the administration appointed interim Chief Harold Medina to be police chief and oversee crime-fighting efforts, recruitment and morale boosting while Stanley, as an interim superintendent, handles the reform effort with the Department of Justice, the academy and the Internal Affairs division and discipline.

Both Medina and Stanley will report directly to Nair, and Stanley will also be deputy CAO. Stanley’s salary was listed at $150,000 a year, and his office is on APD’s fifth floor with the rest of the command staff, although he will likely also get an office at the academy.

Lay of the land

Although the administration has cited Stanley’s status as an outsider, he was a sworn officer with APD working at the Metropolitan Court from 2009 to 2015, according to a department spokeswoman.

He is also not an outsider to the Albuquerque area. He said he and his wife didn’t even have to move when he left the post with Isleta and took the job with the city.

And he has run for Bernalillo County sheriff twice, losing in the primaries to Sheriff Manuel Gonzales in 2014 and 2018. He said he has no plans to run again.

“You don’t have to beat me across the head too many times for me to learn that maybe that wasn’t for me,” Stanley said. “No. We tried it. It was unsuccessful. I have no regrets other than the fact that I didn’t get elected.”

While head of the Gallup Police Department for three years, Stanley said, he had to fire 16 officers from the department, which had about 65 officers, he said.

At a City Council meeting last week, Stanley said that in most of those cases officers were fired for not being truthful rather than for the infraction itself.

“We can’t be lying about anything; we lose that integrity. We can’t have people testifying in court that lied about some small fraction of what happened,” Stanley told the Journal.

Stanley’s tenure at the Gallup Police Department ended in 2007 with a change in administration. His termination coincided with a no-confidence vote from the union.

The Journal could not reach union officials from that time, and neither the current union president nor a spokeswoman for the Gallup Police Department responded to questions about what prompted the vote. However, a short contemporaneous article by the Associated Press said union members had been “concerned about staffing levels in the Police Department and how the budget is managed” and a city manager suspected the vote was issued out of “concern about the current labor agreement that outlines officers’ wages.”

Stanley said he was making some changes at the time that the union didn’t like.

“The members of the Union wanted to run the department,” he said. “There’s only room for one head to run the department, we are working together as a department. But there’s only room for one chief.”

Asked how he would handle the Albuquerque Police Officers Association – which the independent monitor overseeing the reform effort said interfered with internal affairs investigations – Stanley said he has met with the union leaders and will continue to do so.

“I don’t expect to agree on everything,” he said. “We have to agree to disagree … but whatever we do, it will be done in a professional manner.”

New challenge

Although he was appointed in an interim capacity, Stanley said that if the permanent job opened tomorrow, he would apply.

“We’re excited about this,” he said. “This is a new challenge in my life, in my career.”

He said spending so many years living in Albuquerque, as well as leading other departments around the state, has prepared him for the superintendent role. He is one of three African Americans who have made it to the rank of police chief in New Mexico.

“I believe in community-based policing, and I’ve been able to work with all walks of life, all different kinds of circumstances,” Stanley said.

“I was born and raised in the South to Southern sharecroppers. … Because I have those life experiences, I think that allowed me to go and be fair and professional.”

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