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Last week, Mayor Tim Keller nominated a 25-year veteran of law enforcement to be the next superintendent of police reform – a position he created in March 2021 to lead the Albuquerque Police Department alongside the chief.
On Tuesday, the administration announced it had rescinded the nomination.
LaTesha Watson most recently served as the director of the Office of Public Safety Accountability in Sacramento, California. Prior to that she was the chief of the Henderson Police Department in Nevada for 16 months before she was fired following an investigation into complaints against her. Watson has sued her former department alleging systemic discrimination based on race and gender.
She did not respond to requests for comment about her split with Albuquerque on Tuesday.
In response to questions about what led Watson’s nomination to fall through, city spokesman Daniel Jiron said during the final round of in-person meetings last week she had “proposed a restructuring of the role that did not align with the position that the administration is hiring for” and “it became clear to the administration that our vision was not aligned with the candidate’s.”
Although the mayor had announced Watson’s nomination on April 25 following a nationwide search, she still had to be confirmed by the City Council. In that news release, Keller, Chief Harold Medina and Watson praised each other and the opportunities for change.
By Tuesday, that had changed and a spokesman said both the city and Watson identified key differences in their visions.
“We appreciate Dr. LeTesha Watson’s approach to the role, however we believe the restructuring of APD she proposed may in fact set back recent progress made in the Department of Justice consent decree and deviate from processes that are finally producing results,” Jiron said in a statement. “Albuquerque has steadily pursued reform and we are very encouraged by the upcoming independent monitor report that outlines significant recent progress.”
Jiron said Watson had “a number of broad and all-encompassing ideas about what the position should look like.” He said her ideas for protocols, including about how the department handles compliance and use of force, “would have had Albuquerque revisit changes put in place last year that are producing positive results today.”
“While her alternative approach was thoughtful and well intentioned, we cannot afford to effectively reset the clock,” Jiron said. “In the last six months we have been making more progress than in the last two years, so now is not the time to go back and restart. At this critical moment, it’s best for Albuquerque to have someone ready to carry on the work that Interim Superintendent (Sylvester) Stanley has already started and charge full speed ahead on the path we’ve worked hard to create.”
Stanley was the city’s first superintendent of police reform – serving on an interim basis – and the city’s deputy chief administrative officer until he retired in January. Deputy Chief Eric Garcia has been filling the positions since his retirement.
The superintendent serves alongside the police chief and will oversee disciplining officers, the academy and continuing education, internal affairs and compliance with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the Department of Justice. That agreement lays out reforms for the police department, including how it trains, investigates and disciplines officers regarding use of force.
Thirty-four qualified candidates had applied for the post. Jiron said the administration will revisit that pool as well as any additional candidates and solicit new ones.