Bernalillo County’s top elected law enforcement officer is now campaigning for Albuquerque’s highest-ranking leadership role.
Presenting himself as the tough-on-crime candidate, Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III has officially declared his campaign for Albuquerque mayor. He registered as a candidate more than a month ago, but said in recent weeks he was still only exploring the opportunity.
He finally confirmed his intentions in a video and news release issued Monday.
“Albuquerque deserves much better than what we are getting,” Gonzales said in the video. “If you look around, you know we have big challenges in the city.”
Gonzales, an Albuquerque native, joins a field that includes first-term incumbent Mayor Tim Keller and two other challengers: Nicholas Bevins, a 25-year-old activist, and Patrick Ben Sais.
All four are seeking public campaign financing and are now in the midst of the two-month qualifying period. Mayoral candidates have until June 19 to prove public interest in their campaign by gathering $5 contributions from 3,779 voters.
The election will take place on Nov. 2.
Sheriff Gonzales has immediately begun drawing comparisons between himself and Keller when it comes to public safety. Gonzales, a former Marine, has more than 28 years of law enforcement experience, according to his website.
“If people believe Albuquerque is now a safe place, then they should vote for my opponent. But if they believe we must do more to fight crime, then I’m humbly asking for their support,” Gonzales said in his news release.
Gonzales, 57, used his announcement video to tout Albuquerque as a “great place to live,” but also a city rife with crime.
The second-term sheriff is the top elected law enforcement officer in Bernalillo County, which includes Albuquerque. But the city-managed Albuquerque Police Department is the primary responding agency within city limits, where over 82% of the county’s population lives.
The city of Albuquerque has long grappled with crime. In 2019, Albuquerque broke its record for homicides, with 80. While the number dipped slightly in 2020, the city is currently on pace to beat the record in 2021. Albuquerque has, however, lowered property crime; APD data posted online shows total property crime fell 10% in 2019 and another 10% in 2020.
Gonzales’ department does not post annual crime data on its website — and it waited weeks to alert the public about two recent homicides in its jurisdiction — though a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, in response to a Journal request, provided unofficial data on a limited number of crime categories.
BCSO data shows eight homicides in 2020, down from nine the year before and 10 in 2018. The total number of property-related crimes provided to the Journal — including auto theft and larceny — fell 20% in 2020 after rising 2.5% in 2019.
In an interview, Gonzales said APD — which is operating under U.S. Department of Justice oversight due to the DOJ’s finding that APD had a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing — has been “politicized” with too many people involved in department decisions. He said he’s particularly concerned about policies that stop officers from enforcing laws related to lower-level crimes.
“There’s bits and pieces of what they’re being told to do and not to do that are in conflict with their sworn positions (as officers),” Gonzales said.
The sheriff on Monday declined to discuss his specific strategies for combatting homelessness or developing the economy, saying he would reveal details later.
“I did chair a working group for homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness (under former President Donald Trump’s law enforcement commission), so I definitely have the information, I definitely have the relationships and I have a great idea of the strategy moving forward, but at this point I wouldn’t discuss the strategy publicly,” he said.
His news release notes he is a fiscal conservative whose family had a small business. He told the Journal he wants to make city government easier for small businesses to navigate, but provided no specific examples.
City elections are nonpartisan, though Gonzales ran for county sheriff as a Democrat, losing his first bid in 2010, but winning in 2014 and again in 2018.
While Gonzales is riding his law enforcement background, he has as sheriff faced criticism both for his tactics — including the sharp uptick in high-speed BCSO pursuits during his first term — and his reluctance to implement body cameras in his department. BCSO deputies this year began wearing cameras after the New Mexico Legislature passed a law mandating them, but Gonzales had for years resisted calls to use them, often saying he wanted the money to go toward deputies.
However, a county-funded independent analysis released in 2020 found the department was adequately staffed with deputies. It did, however, raise concerns about insufficient training in such BCSO units as homicide and criminal investigations, and a “stark” lack of clearly articulated policies and procedures in some BCSO specialty units.
The department was also at the heart of a major legal settlement last year.
Bernalillo County paid $4 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of Elisha Lucero, a mentally ill woman killed by BSCO deputies responding to a misdemeanor battery call in 2019. Lucero — who ran out of an RV with a kitchen knife — was shot 21 times. Her family’s lawsuit alleged Gonzales fostered a culture of aggression at BCSO and did not have enough officers trained to handle mental health calls. The county admitted no fault in settling the case.