Mayor Richard Berry on Friday appointed a new chief with some experience he hopes will help.
Gorden Eden, 59, whose tenure as chief starts Feb. 27, spent eight years in federal law enforcement as the U.S. marshal for New Mexico. More recently, he has worked for Gov. Susana Martinez, heading the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees State Police.
As marshal, Eden was part of the same agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, now investigating whether Albuquerque police have a pattern or practice of violating people’s civil rights, particularly through the use of force.
The incoming chief said he is not going to wait until the DOJ returns with its findings to take action and move the department forward, opting to implement his ideas instead of “waiting for someone to publish a report.”
“We’re going to take the department well beyond any findings the DOJ has,” he said.
Eden, who also worked as a State Police patrol officer in the 1970s, said the biggest deficiency in APD right now is the number of officers, and he will work to improve recruitment and retention. The city budget has enough money for 1,100 officers, but there haven’t been that many on the force in years.
Eden said his top three priorities as chief are police retention and recruitment, community outreach and making sure the leadership structure at APD is airtight.
‘The best fit’
Berry selected Eden over two other finalists — both from Texas — who worked their way up the ranks at larger metropolitan police departments. Eden, by contrast, has spent most of his career in state and federal government, not on a city police force.
“That wasn’t the most important thing for me,” Berry told reporters on Friday. “I wanted the best fit.”
He described Eden as a “career crime-fighter” who already knows the DOJ.
“There are bridges that are already there,” the mayor said.
Eden said the federal investigation is part of what motivated him to take the city job. He believes his experience and background will help, he said.
“I didn’t come here to retire,” Eden said. “I came here to work.”
He will make $158,000 a year, an increase from his current DPS salary of a little over $116,000. Eden is the first APD outsider to be hired as chief since then-Mayor Jim Baca appointed Jerry Galvin in 1998.
‘A bottom-up solution’
Local activists critical of APD said they are largely withholding judgment on the mayor’s pick until they see how he leads the department.
Mike Gomez, whose son, Alan, was killed by police in 2011, said Eden’s credentials in law enforcement are admirable, but he’s concerned about a recent spate of officer-involved shootings involving New Mexico State Police, especially one of an unarmed woman in Santa Fe in November. A grand jury in January ruled the shooting death of Jeanette Anaya as justified, and it’s unclear if the officer was disciplined.
“(Eden) knows how the upper ranks think and how they want things,” Gomez said, referring to the DOJ. “… ‘But if he lets things like (the November shooting) go, then, yes, it’s a problem.”
Eden, in the news conference, attributed the rise in shootings by State Police to what he said was a national trend involving a lack of “human dignity” toward officers and others.
“The rash of shootings that we have seen, not only with New Mexico State Police but we’re seeing with all the police departments throughout the United States, I think that is an indication of the lack of respect for each other. It’s a lack of respect for human dignity,” Eden said. “Those are things, sadly, that few of us have any control over except the person who starts that aggression.”
Jewel Hall, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, urged Eden to reach out to those in minority and low-income communities to counteract what she said is a reputation that APD is trigger happy, especially with residents who might be homeless, addicted to drugs and alcohol or who are Hispanic or black. She also hopes Eden will take a class in nonviolence and resolving potentially deadly situations peacefully.
“I would hope that the minute he walks in he would look at the policies and procedures of the department and be inclusive,” she said. “Until they have a bottom-up solution, we will continue to have a problem.”
Since 2010, Albuquerque police have shot at 35 men, killing more than 20. Many of those men were Hispanic or black.
“In the very beginning, he has to convince the community, and especially the communities of color and low incomes, that the system is serious” and that he is holding officers accountable, Hall said.
Gomez said Eden’s political ties are another cause of concern for him, but he said that, as long as Eden is independent and committed to rooting out violent or corrupt officers, he will have the activist’s support.
“It sounds like it might work. He has been in the state awhile,” Gomez said. “But if he lets politics take him over, we’re going to be in the same old stuff.”
‘An exceptional résumé’
Stephanie Lopez, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, said Eden “has an exceptional resume. Change is always difficult, but we will give him the opportunity to provide the leadership our department so desperately needs.”
On the other hand, she pointed out Eden’s background as political appointee of Gov. Martinez, who, like Berry, is a Republican.
“We’re a little disappointed that politics played such a big part in the selection process,” Lopez said.
The other two finalists interviewed by Berry were Thomas Lawrence, an assistant police chief in Dallas, and Craig Goral-ski, who spent 29 years with the Houston Police Department.
A two-member local panel, composed of Sal Barigiola, a former county undersheriff, and Terry Huertaz, a former director of the state Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter, ranked each of the three chief candidates after each was interviewed over Skype. Albuquerque Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry also ranked the candidates.
Each of the local panelists and Perry ranked Eden as their first choice, according to documents provided by the city.
After the mayor’s Friday announcement, the governor called Eden an excellent choice.
“I’ve come to know Gorden as a man of principle and conviction, and as a good husband and father,” Martinez said.
City Council President Ken Sanchez said council confirmation isn’t required for the appointment of a police chief.
“Apparently, they felt (Eden) was the most qualified for the position,” Sanchez said. “I think he understands local government being that he’s worked for the state.”
A 100-day agenda
Eden grew up in the South Valley and also worked there as a State Police officer. He held hands with his wife, Mary, before Friday’s announcement, and she stood by his side throughout.
The agenda for his first 100 days in office includes reviewing information the city has submitted to the Department of Justice and preparing a plan to carry out the DOJ findings, once they’re received.
He also listed two priorities that touch on areas under scrutiny by the DOJ and department critics — the internal affairs unit and the training academy.
Eden’s 100-day agenda includes restructuring and redefining internal affairs and strengthening “the Training Academy culture … with disciplined training standards and a commitment to public service.
“From start to finish, there must be a unified process, defined acceptable learning and behavior and accountability with the academy training staff and the Field Training Officer.”
A look at Gorden Eden
– Cabinet secretary under Gov. Susana Martinez since her election in 2010.
– U.S. marshal for New Mexico from 2002-10, where the duties include tracking down fugitives and providing courthouse security.
– Director of the state Motor Vehicle Division, 1997-2002.
– Patrolman and other assignments in the Uniformed Field Bureau, 1975-85. A variety of other state jobs after that.
– Top Secret security clearance.
– Bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix, 1987.
– Adjunct faculty member and researcher for the Center for Public Safety at Northwestern University, which offers a 10-week program for top law-enforcement executives, 1986-2001