EDITOR’S OPINION DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this guest column written by former APD Deputy Chief Paul Chavez are those of Mr. Chavez. The opinions do not reflect those of the www.petedinelli.com blog as they relate to who should be the next APD Chief. Paul Chavez has not been paid any compensation to publish the guest column and he has given consent to publish. The article is being published to allow a discussion of an opposing view point to that of this blog which opposes the appointment of Harold Medina. A link to an opposing blog article on Interim Chief Harold Medina can be found in the postscript below.
GUEST COLUMN BY FORMER APD DEPUTY CHIEF PAUL CHAVEZ
Paul Chavez spent 22 years with the Albuquerque Police Department retiring in 2006 as the Deputy Chief of the Field Services Bureau. Subsequent to retirement he spent six years as the Director of Intelligence for the Southwest Border High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program, four years teaching with the Border Security Center (BORSEC) at New Mexico Tech and is currently the Director of Public Safety with the Pueblo of Laguna. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from New Mexico State University and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of New Mexico.
“Though the 2020 Presidential Election and COVID-19 have dominated our lives recently, we soon will be again focusing on the Chief of Police for our fair city. While my target audience is the Mayor and those who have his ear, I know politicians don’t like taking advice from retired bums on the sidelines. Perhaps I can get this audience to understand what Mayors in our city have failed to grasp. Mayors want to look good, but what they have never understood is that it’s not the Chief of Police that makes them look good. It is the field officers, operational detectives and their sergeants that make the Mayor look good.
Imagine if you will, a modified rapture was to take place in our police department where only the worthless were raised up to the heavens leaving only the essential behind. The fifth floor is empty. Just the officers, detectives, their Sergeants and dispatchers are left to protect the city. A small group of payroll clerks exists to ensure everyone got paid every two weeks. This department would probably run better than it ever has. It’s not the Chief of Police, his or her command staff or those high paid civilian political appointees doing God knows what that are doing the job of policing. They don’t make the Mayor look good. It’s the men and women on the streets interacting with citizens that make the Mayor look good.
No Albuquerque Mayor since 1985 (the year I started) has figured that out. Don’t get me wrong, we had some great Chiefs of Police. But I would venture to say none of them were allowed to show their true potential because of political interference. And Albuquerque is the worse for it.
Mayors seek out that Chief of Police they think is going to make them look good. But instead of looking for a Chief who can be a leader of the men and women doing the actual job on the streets, Mayors go for bling.
They pick people who look great on a resume whether they got actual operational experience or any real leadership capabilities at all. In the one run I made for chief in Albuquerque, my application packet included letters of recommendation from presidents of Albuquerque neighborhood associations. Some of my competitors had letters of recommendation from Presidents – of the United States. How do you compete with that?
Some Mayors make appointments based on the political strength of a candidate, not whether the individual can accomplish the mission of the department. Some are picked for what potential money or powerful constituency that candidate might drag to the table with them. That’s no way to pick a leader.
ANY MAYOR NEEDS TO APPOINT A LEADER NOT BEHOLDEN TO A MAYOR
The silly rapture analogy notwithstanding; the Chief of Police appointment is critical for a department. But it has to be someone with a proven record of actual police work. Someone who has been on the ground and worked their way up through this or any other department (hopefully of comparable size – Bosque Farms?). And that advancement needs to have been in the field or in operational capacities – narcotics, investigations, tactical etc. No flat butted, pencil pushers who put more miles on an office chair than they did in a police car.
Yes, your chief needs to be educated, as should every police officer should be before they become a cop. And great, if the JFK School of Government at Harvard is on their resume or they attended the FBI National Academy. But appoint a true leader, someone officers respect or have the background they can come to respect. Talk with field officers and they will tell you they trust and respect a leader who’s been in the field, been kicked in the teeth and can resonate with them and their experiences. Trust and respect between the field and the Chief is the intangible glue that holds a department together. The folks out there making the Mayor look good will more likely trust and respect a true leader with real police experience than someone with a Ph.D. in shift scheduling or some such nonsense and spent 15 years in charge of CALEA (law enforcement accreditation process that kills many trees).
As is important is who you pick is how you retain them. As long as the Chief of Police is beholden to one politician, you have a politically infected Chief of Police. You have a Chief of Police that cannot be of their own mind. They cannot speak out in support of their department if it’s not in the political interest of the Mayor. They cannot speak out in support of an individual officer if it’s not in the political interest of the Mayor. They cannot speak out on an issue with which the Mayor may not agree. They cannot effectively do their job if it runs contrary to a Mayor’s political calculus – like let’s say, allowing a Chief of Police to make sure that violent protesters, rioters and looters are arrested regardless of the underlying cause. The Chief of Police cannot publicly long for desperately needed federal dollars to assist in crime-fighting because the Mayor is catering to the sanctuary city crowd.
NEGOTIATE CONTRACT MAKING TERMINATION OF A CHIEF “FOR CAUSE”, NOT “AT WILL” BY A MAYOR
There’s a way to fix that, still give the Mayor the opportunity to pick a person they want, test drive the one they think they don’t want and perhaps give the city of Albuquerque some desperately needed longevity and continuity with their chief.
The fix? A contract.
The length of the contract and the provisions for dismissal will be the key for making this idea work. If the Chief is removed for political reasons, the cost will be expensive; both politically to the Mayor and financially to the city. Let’s see this work with an example.
Let’s say that Alexandria Ocasio–Trump is elected Mayor of Albuquerque to take office on December 1, 2021. There’s only an acting chief under no contractual obligation, so on January 1, 2022 Mayor Ocasio–Trump appoints one Jose Viernes (the older, bilingual crowd gets it) as Chief of Police. Chief Viernes contract is for four years nine months, meaning his contract expires September 30, 2026.
In early 2025, Mayor Ocasio–Trump realizes that she is actually from New York and decides not to run for a second term. A new Mayor takes office on December 1, 2025. Chief Viernes, assuming that he has not left under one of the below conditions, is the new Mayor’s Chief for nine months. That’s nine months for the new Mayor and Chief Viernes to get to know one another and find out what they may have in common which might cause them to want to work together. If the new Mayor immediately decides they don’t want to keep Chief Viernes for nine months for petty political reasons, they have to pay Chief Viernes the balance of his contract; plus a kicker equivalent to, let’s say, the previous three years salary that Chief Viernes earned. Does the new Mayor want to start out that way?
But let’s say that Chief Viernes is fired during Ocasio-Trump’s tenure as Mayor. He may be gone under two conditions: let’s say he was terminated for cause. He didn’t do the fundamentals of his job, got caught driving drunk, sexually harassing the secretary, domestic violence, – you pick the vice. The bottom line is he’s gone, and the city paid nothing for his termination. But let’s say he does do his job, is meeting his responsibilities and serving this community well. But over time Mayor Ocasio-Trump comes to regret her decision because she and Chief Viernes have opposite political views; and because he’s a strong leader, she can’t control him. Finally, when he speaks out against electric police cars as too expensive, she decides to get rid of Chief Viernes. Then she would have to pay off his contract plus a kicker meant to discourage unnecessary political terminations. No one wants to be that Mayor that has to make the politically unpopular decision of paying someone a big fat chunk of change just to make a Chief go away. Pick a professional to be Chief of Police and let them be a Chief of Police.
MAYOR KELLER NEEDS TO MAKE INTERIM CHIEF MEDINA PERMANANT
Harold Medina is not the cause of the current crisis that the police department is in. CASA is not his fault. It is no one person’s fault. It’s my fault and the fault of every other Chief of Police and Deputy Chief of Police since 1985. We collectively created this environment for this to happen. It’s also the fault of every Mayor that ever served, every public safety officer, every chief administrative officer and every city attorney. More than one dead philosopher has said that people get the government they deserve – it’s on everyone. I love this city, but it’s violent and it’s mean, and its people lack self-control and don’t know how to take responsibility. Combine that with the police department that hasn’t figured it out yet, and you have a combination that can lead to what we have. So, the DOJ settlement rest with many, many people.
Get over it. Let’s fix it and move on.
I think one person who can make that happen is the guy currently sitting in the chief’s office. He is educated, he’s smart and he has real operational police experience. That desire to be on the streets and serve the people of Albuquerque at an operational level is what gives him the experience necessary to lead police officers. He’s not a desk jockey with a bunch of administrative assignments on his resume. He knows what it’s like to be out there, he knows what it’s like to experience what a police officer experiences. He knows what to look for when it comes to improper police behavior, whether that behavior is disrespecting a citizen or an improper use of force.
The same street experience that Chief Medina has, is the same experience that has led him into the scrapes for which he has been criticized. I am familiar with some, but not all and I can say in the ones that I’m familiar with, Harold did nothing legally, procedurally or morally wrong in those police actions. I’m sure they are burned in his heart forever – but knowing the moral constitution of this man, I believe the scars have led to a better police officer and one who will be a better Chief of Police.
I’m sure there are a few men and women somewhere out there in United States who seem to be a better candidate than Chief Medina. But they don’t know the department like he does. Harold doesn’t have a learning curve. They don’t know the issues and they haven’t been working on solutions as he has. I’m confident that he can do the job and he can do the job well.
So, to all you Harold haters out there: I’m sure you believe you make some valid points on why that his appointment is without merit, but when you reduce the dialogue to insignificant factors like football jersey Fridays, it’s pretty evident that you are grasping at straws.
Mr. Mayor, leave Chief Medina where he’s at. And all you city leaders out there, current and future – let’s learn to respect the rank and file; they’re the ones who’ll make you look good. Let’s find a commonsense way to get a true professional as Chief of Police. Then leave them to be a Chief of Police and not a political stooge.
A link to an opposing blog article on Interim Chief Harold Medina and published on September 28, is here:
A Chief Medina Is Keller’s “Unicorn”; Medina’s Reactive Decision-Making Results In Death; Chief Geier: “I Did Not Want To Retire”, Says Keller And Nair Micro Managed APD; Mayor Mike Geier?