Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Santa Fe Police Chief Andrew Padilla will officially hang up his badge Dec. 3, his retirement ending a 21-year career in law enforcement that he started as a patrol officer for the department.
“I graduated high school and then I went into the United States Marine Corps, and I was just still looking for a career in service where I could help others,” said the Española native.
Padilla wanted to work and live near Española, so his sights were set on joining the Santa Fe Police Department. The capital city’s police department was larger than his hometown’s and offered promotion opportunities, which Padilla wanted.
As he rose through the ranks, Padilla served as SWAT team and special operations commander, deputy chief administrator, a field training officer, firearms instructor and in criminal investigations.
Throughout his career, he rose up through the ranks until he saw an opportunity to put in a bid for chief of police.
He said city administration gave him the opportunity to do that by looking internally for a chief, which is a practice he encourages. He said this shows younger officers in the department that they can also be chief one day.
“I didn’t get into this job, or into the police department, and say, ‘Hey, one day I’m going to be chief.’ It kind of just happened as I worked through the ranks,” he said.
During his tenure as chief, Padilla has worked to get crisis intervention training and counseling services for police officers, officers’ pay raised, a $15,000 signing bonus for lateral officers and body camera approval.
Detective Rebecca Hilderbrandt, president of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association, said she’s worked with Padilla since she joined the department in 2014.
The ultimate goal is to retire in law enforcement, she said, and not a lot of people get to do that. Most officers end up getting burnt out, but she said Padilla’s retirement shows it can be done.
“I know when officers have had personal issues come up, such as tragic events in their family, in their household, he’s reached out to them,” she said. “Some other commanders may not do that, but I know the chief has personally called some of the people and said, ‘Hey, you know if you need anything, we’re here for you.”
Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said he has had a similar experience with Padilla. He said Padilla has always had a “lot of heart.” He first met Padilla when he was a police cadet and Padilla was his field training officer.
Through the years, Valdez and Padilla worked together in a variety of roles, and Valdez said he remembers Padilla’s mentorship. When Valdez was promoted to detective, Padilla helped him learn the new role.
“I know people say he’s like a jokester … but I’ve seen where he’s gone above and beyond for people in the organization,” Valdez said. “He’s made sure that everyone knows he cares about everyone.”
For example, when someone on the SWAT team needed equipment, Valdez said Padilla would go out and buy it himself. Padilla has also pushed for changes in the department to help it evolve, such as adding police psychologists for officers and implementing body cameras.
Valdez said whoever takes the helm after Padilla will need to be prepared to keep moving the department forward.
Mayor Alan Webber said Padilla has always been responsive to city administration about updating them on the police department and answering any questions they might have.
“I think it’s important to give Chief Padilla, the recognition he deserves,” Webber said. “Under his watch, (we’ve had a) very stable and progressive approach to policing. Particularly with how challenging the field of public safety is right now, I think it’s worth saying not only what did happen, over the past three and a half years with Chief Padilla as head of the department, but what didn’t happen.”
During Padilla’s time, there were no protests against the department for excessive force or an increase in police shootings – just the opposite, Webber said. He said this is a mark of success for Padilla.
For Padilla, after he retires, he plans to take some time off with friends and family. He said being chief, he’s had to be on call 24/7 for the past three and a half years.
“It’s been a great career helping a community, from changing someone’s flat tires many times (to) helping people out with critical incidents,” he said. “Just interacting with the community, whether you live, work or play here.”