Perhaps nothing shows the need for singularly firm leadership of a law enforcement organization than a crisis.
This week, when an Albuquerque police officer shot and killed a career criminal armed with a loaded AK-47, Chief Ray Schultz showed why he is the right man for that job.
Schultz was at the shooting scene Tuesday, front and center before the microphones and cameras, detailing 31-year-old Michael Marquez’s long criminal record and gang affiliation and explaining the events that led up to a SWAT officer shooting Marquez dead.
There was no chain-of-command confusion, no public safety chief vying for the spotlight, no chance for good cop/bad cop mixed messages.
There was just one cop, the city’s top cop, laying out the facts.
That’s as it should be.
Last week Mayor Richard Berry announced he would not replace former public safety director Darren White, whom he installed last year to oversee the police and fire departments. That clears the way for Schultz, who has three decades in law enforcement and has been APD’s chief since 2005, to lead APD forward while setting a clear line of accountability that goes straight to his desk.
There’s no question APD has faced crises in recent months — from a troubling jump in fatal police shootings (14 in 20 months) to disturbing Internet postings by sworn officers. In each case, Schultz has stepped up publicly and/or acted privately to restore confidence in his department.
For those who would say Schultz is an entrenched apologist for a paramilitary organization gone out of control, yes, he has made his career in great part by moving up through APD’s ranks. But that also means he knows where its problems and weaknesses lie.
And he has acted on them.
When a mentally ill man gunned down two veteran APD officers and killed three civilians, Schultz created a group of civilian APD employees to work with other agencies to help deal with mental health issues discovered when police respond to crisis situations.
When the national Police Executive Research Forum investigated the increase in officer-involved shootings and made 40 recommendations, Schultz implemented 39 and added 19 of his own.
When an APD officer Facebooked that his job was “human waste disposal,” Schultz developed and then ordered all employees to read and sign a new social media policy. He said in an internal memo that “the conduct of individual officers can impact the reputation and integrity of this department and all officers and civilian personnel. It is essential that the public have absolute trust and respect for the Albuquerque Police Department and the men and women who serve in it. … The department is committed to a safe, secure community where the rights, history and culture of each citizen is valued and respected. The department will accept nothing less.”
He has fired, suspended or reprimanded dozens of officers after Internal Affairs investigations, Police Oversight Commission recommendations or criminal indictments. The most recent is Pete Dwyer, canned this week for Twitter comments about Muslims and pistol whipping that Schultz deemed in violation of that social networking policy.
Schultz’s comments show he understands APD officers are held to a higher standard, that they must walk their law-abiding talk, that the public looks to his men and women, who put their lives on the line every day, to set an example.
And Schultz’s actions show he is the right person to ensure they do.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.