SANTA FE, N.M. — Patrick Gallagher wanted to get away from the Big Apple, so six years ago he packed his bags and headed west to the small town of Truth or Consequences.
“I was looking for something different,” Gallagher said. “It was time for a change. You can’t get more of a change from New York to Truth or Consequences.”
The Santa Fe Police Department’s interim chief, who took over for the departed Eric Garcia on July 28, had been with the New York City Police Department for 23 years, but he saw an opportunity to start fresh in his wife’s home town and became the chief of the 15-man T or C police department in 2009.
Instead of nabbing bad guys amongst some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, Gallagher, 51, found himself traveling dirt roads and completing tasks like signing a death warrant for a sick coyote.
“It’s eye-opening, to say the least,” Gallagher said. “What I was shocked at, and I shouldn’t have been because my wife was from there, was the loss of my anonymity. When you’re in a city of 8 million people, it’s easy to get lost. In a city of 7,000 people and you’re the chief of police, you can’t go into Walmart for a gallon of milk without spending an hour talking to people.”
It was still a nice change for Gallagher, who was hired to be a professional standards captain in internal affairs by former Santa Fe police chief Ray Rael in 2012. Gallagher, born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., was an NYPD officer when terrorists brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
He says the events in the weeks that followed the morning when his ex-wife told him to turn on the news to watch the tragedy unfold factored into his decision to move elsewhere. He simply describes the entire ordeal as a “nightmare,” and said there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t think about it.
“I got dressed as quick as I could and got to work, and then we were just waiting for orders,” Gallagher said. “By the time I did deploy, both towers had come down. I saw them come down from Brooklyn, 15 to 18 miles away. It really was just like a dream. It hit home for me when we got to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel when people handed us surgical masks and said ‘You might need these.’
“Halfway through the tunnel, we couldn’t see anymore because of the dust. When we got into Manhattan, that was just surreal. There were papers falling still and dust – and obviously you know what was contained in that dust. For weeks later, it was on my clothes and on my car. It sticks with me every day. It reminds me that you can never assume anything. You have to be prepared for the worst.”
Getting used to New Mexico proved a little harder than he thought and an oversight put him in hot water after two years as T or C chief. A 2011 KRQE-TV investigation revealed T or C police auctioned off about 90 guns from the department’s evidence room and raised about $10,400 without seeking a state district judge’s approval first or advertising in an attempt to find the firearms’ original owners. Gallagher said he didn’t mean to do anything wrong and should have reviewed the law more carefully.
“I’ve sometimes been criticized as being a micro-manager,” Gallagher said. “I did delegate that task, but I was also responsible for it. I just didn’t double check and I was new to New Mexico. The person I gave it to made a mistake, but it’s my responsibility. It was an error and there was no ill intent. There was close to 100 firearms in that evidence locker with no documentation.”
He came to Santa Fe a year later and held his position in internal affairs for a little under two years before Garcia terminated his job a few months after becoming chief in June 2014. That prompted Gallagher to work in the city’s human resources department as a training specialist, putting a temporary halt on a law enforcement career that started when he was 20 years old.
“I have no hard feelings towards that,” Gallagher said. “He needed flexibility to do what he needed to do and I completely respect that. He did what I’m doing. You have to get your people who you can trust and you have to make strategic moves.”
Garcia retired two weeks after four disgruntled lieutenants sent a memo to City Manager Brian Snyder alleging Garcia fostered an environment of hostility and tried to hire applicants with questionable backgrounds. Inner strife is nothing new in SFPD as the past four chiefs all faced no-confidence votes, but Gallagher said it won’t deter him from moving the department in a positive direction.
“I can’t say that it intimidates me,” he said. “It concerns me. It would be nice to find a solution, but I’m not naive enough to think I have the magic wand to solve that. My focus at this point is to keep everyone moving forward despite all of that infighting or controversy. The vast majority of the men and women who work here have continued to do their job to protect the people in Santa Fe. We just want to keep it going that way.”
Gallagher said he is not sure if he wants to permanently be chief after Snyder tapped him for the interim job the morning Garcia retired, saying it’s too soon to tell. But the former city slicker is finding this transition much easier than when he left the big city for the high desert.
“I’m trying to run the department while learning it at the same time,” Gallagher said. “I’m an outsider with an insider’s perspective, that’s kind of how I look at it. There is not a getting-to-know-you process and that’s a helpful thing for me. In T or C, it was kind of hard.”