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Vying to be Bernalillo County’s next top cop are two retired law enforcement officers – one who wants to reform the agency and the other who wants to return to policing’s roots – and a man who tangled with the sitting sheriff during the notorious “Dongcopter” incident of the mayoral race last year.
On the Democratic side, there’s John Allen, who served with the New Mexico State Police for four years before joining the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office in 2001. The 47-year-old is running as a “reform-minded” candidate who said he was pushed out of the agency in 2020 after he voiced concerns about the way things were being run. He now works as a lead instructor at the Central New Mexico Community College law enforcement academy.
On the Republican side is Paul Pacheco, who worked for the Albuquerque Police Department for 27 years before being elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives and then serving as the deputy Cabinet secretary for the state’s Corrections Department. The 58-year-old stressed the importance of getting more deputies on the streets and said that he doesn’t have any close ties within the Sheriff’s Office, hasn’t promised anyone anything and will not be treating people differently based on personal relationships.
The third candidate is Libertarian Kaelan Dreyer – a 21-year-old activist and farmer who has never served in law enforcement. He said he is running as a protest candidate to give a voice to civilians who feel disconnected from law enforcement.
Dreyer was arrested in June 2021 after landing a glancing blow on Sheriff Manuel Gonzales’s arm during a mayoral campaign event.
Dreyer’s friends had interrupted the event by flying a self-described “Dongcopter” – a drone with a phallic object attached to it – toward the stage. In a recent interview with the Journal, he clarified that the object was a stuffed nylon stocking in the shape of a dildo.
When the establishment’s owner grabbed the drone, Dreyer said he tried to get it back and ended up hitting Gonzales in the kerfuffle. He was charged with petty misdemeanor battery and misdemeanor resisting an officer, but the case was dismissed when the prosecution didn’t appear for hearings.
Enforcement not only solution
Pacheco, whose parents moved from Rhode Island to Albuquerque before he was born, grew up near the North Valley and went to Valley High School. He said the city no longer resembles the one from his childhood and he worries about increased fentanyl use as the drug comes over the border from Mexico.
Referencing “a couple of high-profile police misconduct cases” that “fueled anti-police rhetoric,” Pacheco said law enforcement has pulled back and is now afraid to engage or enforce laws.
“We’ve seen what’s happened: We have rampant violent crime, we have rampant property crime,” he said in an interview. “You know how it is to drive around in this county – the speeds, the ‘we’re not paying attention to stop signs,’ red lights are suggestions … so basically what’s happened is, it’s emboldened people, they’re not being held accountable.”
To address this, Pacheco said he would put more deputies on the streets – by asking the Bernalillo County commission to fund additional positions and by moving people from task forces to the field services units.
“That gives them the ability to do community-based policing,” Pacheco said. “So, right now, there’s no proactive policing or little – let me qualify – little proactive policing being done.”
Moving task force deputies into the field is also something Allen suggested – saying the sheriff’s job is to make sure resources are being used efficiently.
However, he doesn’t think more enforcement is the only solution.
“Proactive policing for the crime problem just isn’t pulling everybody over, it’s also being engaged with your community and having that trust,” Allen said during an interview at a park next to CNM’s campus. “You have to be able to multi-task. It can’t be a one-dimensional item.”
Allen was one of the founding members of the county’s mobile crisis teams – made up of a clinician and a deputy. He said he would like to add two more mobile crisis teams to BCSO, as well as two more deputies to the crisis intervention teams.
“We have to make sure that we’re de-escalating – which I’m teaching at CNM,” Allen said. “Which law enforcement does, but we can always become a lot better at it.”
Rebuilding a relationship
Allen’s parents also came from the East Coast – from New York – and he, too, was born in Albuquerque. He attended West Mesa High School.
During his time with BCSO, Allen was one of the supervisors of the Multi-Agency Task Force, which investigates shootings by local law enforcement. He said he now likes the idea of an independent agency – such as the state Attorney General’s Office if it had more resources – taking the lead on future investigations.
In November 2017, Joshua Mora – son of then-undersheriff Rudy Mora – fired at a pickup truck, killing the driver and passenger, because he said he was afraid he and his sergeant would be run over.
Prosecutors determined the shooting was justified. Following a lawsuit, the county paid $3.3 million to the families of the men who were killed and two others who weren’t injured.
Allen said his disagreements with Sheriff Gonzales included concerns about Undersheriff Mora’s involvement in the investigation. He said he would handle similar situations differently.
“You have something that controversial, that type of relationship, something that’s so intertwined to someone being close to someone high in the chain of command right away – absolutely not, we will not take the lead,” Allen said. “I will do this as sheriff. Another department will take the lead.”
Allen said he was “pushed out and targeted” because of this incident and because he disagreed with the sheriff on other things, as well, including the resistance to getting body cameras until it was mandated under state law.
“How do we move forward – instead of talking about the past – is learning from the mistakes the current administration has done and improving on them,” he said. “But not just listening to people that are so law enforcement-centric, actually listening to the whole community as a whole.”
Pacheco also disagreed with the resistance to body cameras, saying “in my mind, that horse had left the barn long ago.”
And he said he thought the current sheriff had alienated others, including the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Albuquerque police chief.
“So, I have to rebuild that, whether it’s with Raúl (Torrez), with him or whether it’s with his successor, whoever it is, I’m going to rebuild that relationship,” Pacheco said. “We’re going to work in tandem and work together in protecting the county.”
Pacheco said he would be open to further reforms as long as they are evidence based.
“I would want to listen, I would want to see really what the issue was,” he added. “And if it could be dealt with internally, or if it was something that needed some sort of outside monitoring.”
Offering ‘a different message’
Calling policing “local tyranny,” Dreyer said he was interested in running for sheriff even before his brush with the office last year.
“I’m running to give voters a different message,” he said. “Basically, most sheriff candidates are generally very, I’d say, authoritarian. I feel like, here in New Mexico and Albuquerque, policing is just out of control. I mean … we were No. 1 in the country for deaths from law enforcement.”
Dreyer, who moved to Albuquerque from Illinois with his mother when he was 16, met with the Journal at the Rio Grande Community Farm where he has a quarter-acre plot of land.
He said he’d like to decriminalize all drug possession and stop BCSO’s use of militarized, armored vehicles.
“Law enforcement, unions and all that are trying to scare the public in using the same tactics that we’ve seen through the past few decades that really do not solve the root cause of crime, and really just end up in more destruction of civil liberties,” Dreyer said. “Especially for people of color and other marginalized groups.”
As someone on the autism spectrum, Dreyer said he has concerns about the way law enforcement deals with people with mental illness or other conditions.
“I am going to run, probably not going to win, but whatever,” Dreyer said. “I hope to make a message, that’s my main goal to bring the voters a different perspective and maybe even after the election they can fight for or advocate for some of the reforms that I’ve suggested.”