Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
It’s a crowded race for those vying to be the Democratic candidate for Bernalillo County Sheriff.
Among the seven Democrats who have thrown their hats into the ring to be the county’s top cop are three who have worked with the current sheriff, Manuel Gonzales – a Democrat. Other candidates include a former sheriff of Quay County, a former state legislator and a 25-year-old who has never served in law enforcement. The seventh candidate, Matthew McCoy, did not respond to the Journal’s request for an interview and did not complete a questionnaire.
As the largest sheriff’s office in the state, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office employs 458 staff – 305 of whom are sworn deputies – and covers mainly the unincorporated areas of the county. However, deputies also have jurisdiction within the city limits.
Sheriff Gonzales’ assistant did not respond to questions from the Journal about whether he was endorsing a candidate. However, financial disclosures show he donated $2,600 each to his former undersheriff Rudy Mora and his current undersheriff Larry Koren.
The winner of the primary will face the Republican nominee and libertarian candidate Kaelan Ashby Dreyer in November’s election.
Prior to his career in law enforcement, Larry Koren worked as an aircraft mechanic and inspector.
So, he said, when the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office bought a repurposed military helicopter for $1 in the early 2000s, he personally overhauled and rebuilt it.
“It was all in addition to my duties as a field deputy out on patrol on a graveyard shift,” 54-year-old Koren said. “I would come in and work extra, and volunteer a lot of hours and blood, sweat and tears into those programs.”
Koren, now a BCSO undersheriff, said he was inspired to try to replace his boss by a conversation with his wife about the “de-fund the police” movement and other initiatives. She wanted to know “if I get the impression that the Democrats are on the wrong side of law enforcement right now” and if it was time for the couple to leave Albuquerque.
“Ultimately, what she was really asking is: Have I given up and has the community given up?” Koren said. “I haven’t. I’m still in this fight right now – fighting crime and protecting others – and I want to continue to do that. What it comes down to is I haven’t given up on Albuquerque, I haven’t given up on New Mexico or Bernalillo County.”
Koren describes himself as a “fundamental law enforcement officer that believes in deterrence,” but said he also has a compassionate side and believes in alternatives to incarceration. He said that, if elected, he would focus on building up infrastructure – meaning additional facilities, information technology, and strengthening the bridge between the city and county.
“I think we provide an outstanding service for the unincorporated areas,” Koren said. “And, when it comes down to it, I want to make sure and try to do my best to get the city the same type of service.”
It was while he was still hospitalized – and on oxygen – with COVID-19 in December that Rudy Mora decided to run for sheriff.
“I’m thinking to myself, you know, of my legacy and what I have left if I’m able to push through this awful, awful virus,” Mora said. “I started reading the sheriff’s manual, the New Mexico sheriff handbook, and … just having an epiphany, if I can get through this, how can I give back to the community?”
Mora, 50, left the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office in 2019 after serving as undersheriff for four years. Shortly after that, he was hired as the police chief of the Pueblo of Laguna, a position he held until he retired in July 2021.
For Mora, being sheriff means being a “servant leader” who puts others’ needs before his own.
“My primary goal, if elected sheriff, is to go into the sheriff’s office and just create a culture where people feel valued, they feel supported, and they’ll go out there, both civilian staff and sworn, and serve and protect the people in an above-average manner,” Mora said. “When employees feel valued and supported, it’s proven they do great things.”
Mora, whose slogan is “we don’t have to be bad to get better,” said he had disagreed with Gonzales on some issues over the years – for instance, he was a proponent of body cameras.
However, Mora said, he didn’t believe they had the budget for the devices at that time and they had to update the department’s vehicle fleet instead.
If elected, he would like to expand the Records Management System and intelligence-led, data-driven policing.
“The sheriff’s office is a position where I believe we need to collaborate with everyone,” Mora said. “I think they just play a pivotal role in what goes on today. We just see it at all levels of government – politicians don’t get along with one another and they may not communicate with one another at all levels. I just think the only ones that suffer from that are the people.”
John Allen has wanted to be sheriff since 2013.
As a sergeant with BCSO, he said he would watch news conferences and be dismayed by Gonzales’ reluctance to get body cameras, the department’s lack of transparency on crime statistics and other issues.
“When I was over the mobile crisis team, and some of our deputy-involved shootings, I saw the resources that our deputies did not have to at least attempt to avoid a deadly force confrontation,” Allen said. “That’s the worst for a deputy, of course – deadly force is our last resort.”
Allen, 47, retired as a sergeant over the homicide and violent crimes unit in 2020, and now teaches at the Law Enforcement Academy at Central New Mexico Community College.
He was one of the founding members of the Mobile Crisis Team, which pairs a clinician with a deputy to respond to calls involving mental health crises.
Saying he “represents change and reform,” Allen said he’d like to expand the Mobile Crisis Team, and improve on the way deputies handle mental health calls and those involving people struggling with drug addictions. This includes asking the Crisis Intervention Team to do follow-ups on mental health calls, and make sure individuals and families have the resources and services that they need.
“I want people to de-escalate, have a clinician if needs be to respond to the call appropriately, or even a deputy that’s even better trained in the mental health arena,” Allen said. “That way, we have a rapport – not just with our community, but with that specific family – to make sure we don’t have a deputy having to make a deadly force confrontation. And don’t get me wrong, I know that might arise at times, but why would we not look at every tool to prevent that?”
To show his commitment to transparency, 55-year-old Patricio “Pat” Ruiloba published his personnel files from his time at APD on his website. He is the only candidate to do so.
“The public expects transparency from their leadership and I wanted to make sure that people within the community, the voters, are going to be able to see my file, and some of the things that occurred during my time with policing,” he said. “I think that’s really going to drive what I want to do as a leader in regards to being transparent.”
Those nearly 200 pages include, among other things, letters of commendation – including one designating him “non-uniformed” officer of the month – and a letter of reprimand disciplining Ruiloba for using a gun to disable a vehicle in 2005.
Ruiloba said he shot at the tires of a “gang member with a history of violence and several felony warrants who avoided apprehension for two years, while making statements about not going back to jail” as he was fleeing so he could be taken into custody.
“I chose this action instead of using deadly force to stop the suspects’ dangerous actions,” Ruiloba said. “My supervisor chose a letter of reprimand. I didn’t challenge this action as I believed the suspect’s life and the detectives’ lives were spared during this incident.”
Ruiloba worked in various units within APD from 1988 until he retired in 2008.
Since then, he has served as president of his South Valley neighborhood, worked as a school resource officer at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School and was elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives in 2014.
Ruiloba said that, as a legislator with a law enforcement background, he was able to provide input on proposed bills and introduce the Attendance for Success Act that requires public schools to establish an early warning system for students who are frequently absent, limits the ability of a student to withdraw, and more.
“I think what we’re seeing today in regards to crime and, specifically with our juveniles, is that some of the biggest factors is that those young people were either suspended or expelled, or dropped out of school,” Ruiloba said. “So, really trying to find and create policy that allows for some reflection, using restorative practices to keep our kids at school, but also hold them accountable for their behavior.”
He said that, if elected sheriff, he would like to focus on providing mental health treatment for deputies and building relationships with the community.
Philip “Phil” Snedeker is the only candidate to have already held the office of sheriff.
The Silver City native was elected Quay County Sheriff in 1987 – when a little over 10,000 residents lived there.
Snedeker, 66, said that, while some things have modernized in law enforcement and society – including more programming for rehabilitation and mental health services – in general, he expects that serving as Bernalillo County sheriff would be very similar to his time in Quay County.
“Nothing has changed whatsoever,” Snedeker said. “You’ve got to have a very strong law enforcement effort, by that, I mean a very purposeful database into areas to prevent, suppress, stop crime, hold people accountable. Then, you work to rehabilitate them – that has not changed.”
Following his stint as sheriff, Snedeker worked for the State of New Mexico Probation and Parole Division.
He said that, in his time at the division, he learned that most of the people in the criminal justice system are affected by a chemical or alcohol dependency, poor influences in their lives and a lack of opportunities.
While diversionary programs are very successful for first-time youthful offenders, Snedeker said that more serious, violent, repeat offenders “need to be removed from society, and they do need to be in prison, they need to be held accountable for the misconduct.”
Referencing lawsuits alleging excessive use of force and racial profiling that the county has settled under Gonzales, Snedeker said there needs to be new leadership and enhanced training at the department.
“It’s a matter of training; you’ve got to change the way people are responding to things,” Snedeker said. “You’ve got to make sure that the people who are doing the training and are directing new recruits … that they’re doing that in a constitutionally sound manner and that things are on track. And that’s something that I think I can bring to a very successful resolution.”
Sheridan Lund decided to run for sheriff because he didn’t like what he saw in all the other candidates.
“It’s 20-year cop, 20-year cop, 20-year cop, 20-year cop, 20-year cop, and me,” Lund said “So, it’s pretty obvious that we at least need my voice in this race to spell out that it’s not criminals and cages. It’s citizens who commit crime out of desperation, and we need to re-center the discussion.”
At 25, Lund has not held a job in law enforcement, does not have a law enforcement certificate, and is currently working as an electrician and a community manager at a tech company.
He said his main initiative as sheriff would be working to set up a program with the county to give people cash directly.
“Crime is 100% a problem in the county, there’s no denying that,” Lund said. “The solution is not more officers on the street banging heads. It’s cash into the problem areas. Because, honestly, a lot of these problems of crime are destitution problems, edge cases where a little bit of cash, even like $50, or $100, would abate it.”
Lund, who tried to run for Congress last year, but didn’t get enough signatures to get on the ballot, doesn’t have a campaign website and is not taking donations. He’s campaigning through word of mouth, talking to neighbors and going to functions as a precinct chair with the Democratic Party.
He said that, if he’s elected, he would donate a lot of his salary to those in need.
“The first day would be a lot of ‘why the heck do you do this? Why the heck do you do that? Why is this this way?’ ” Lund said. “Because there would be a fresh perspective on the ways we’ve been doing stuff for decades.”
To read candidate bios and the complete questionnaires, visit ABQJournal.com/election-guide