Friday, June 08, 2007

No Confidence Vote in Chief Eric Johnson.

A faction of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association which is the City of Santa Fe Police Union garnered just enough members (12 of the approximately 25 members who attended the meeting) to force a vote of no confidence on Chief Eric Johnson. Chief Eric Johnson and his administration has always had an excellent working relationship with the County Sheriff's Office. I truly believe he has displayed excellent leadership coming into a department as chief during a time of challenges related to growing pains and internal issues that were not of his making. The union needs to realize that the last time this happened the department suffered for years trying to recover from its internal divisions and the then Mayor and Council treated the Police Department like the spoiled step child for years.

I was once President of the P.O.A. and a few months after my presidency ended the Union voted for a vote of no confidence on then Chief Donald Grady. At the time the union membership was sharply divided. Appointed as an agent of Change by then Mayor Debbie Jaramillo, the first Black Chief in Santa Fe's history was controversial and his tenure created deep divisions in the City Police that remain to this day. The Department was divided into two camps led by myself as President and Sergeant Frank Novelli who was a radical activist who would become President. The group led by Frank Novelli wanted Grady removed at all costs. Racial comments were often thrown about behind closed doors and really disgusting things such as pubic hairs placed in cake which was given to him were the types of things the situation had degenerated into.

The Chief eventually resigned and the department went through a string of Chiefs and years of internal strife. The union membership developed a reputation as unreasonable and as such raises and support from the Mayor and Council was diminished. The City Council thought of the Union as spoiled and impossible to work with. It really is the basis for a lot of problems the department still has today.

One problem with the City Police Union as the current president admits, and I will attest to from the days I was President is the fact that so few members exercise their voice in meetings by showing up at all. This usually means only the most disgruntled show up and therefor have a larger role in guiding the actions of the union. The current vote to hold a no confidence vote came at the most inopportune time as the city is about to vote on a new union contract with significant raises. Those who pushed this issue at this time probably were not thinking about the big picture and only were interested in pushing their agenda.

I have known Chief Johnson since the days we worked the streets together in the late eighty's and early ninety's. He started when he was 18 years old which was allowed back then. I remember that if he wanted to buy ammunition for his pistol he had to get someone over 21 to buy it for him. You can not buy pistol ammunition unless you are 21. Eric is the kind of dedicated cop you could always count on. In those days just 4 or 5 of us covered the whole city. If one of your fellow officers called in sick the rest of the guys or gals had to cover the slack. It could mean the difference between having backup at a crucial time or not. Eric was the kind of patrol officer you knew would always be there, never called in sick and always was an eager and ready young cop. Ready to be there as a backup when you needed one.

While I don't know what will end up happening with this whole no confidence vote thing, I do know that Eric really cares about what happens in the police department. He is a cops, cop and really as a subordinate you can't ask for much more when you choose a leader. He inherited the current scandals involving the detectives under investigation and he inherited the problems with hiring and retention. The current increases in crime rates in the city can at least partially be attributed to those issues. Hiring and retention are issues all departments face and are part of a societal change which will take years to overcome. The City could do much worse for a chief. I am told by my old buddies in the City Police that the vote was divided between newer officers who voted for the no confidence vote and older more experienced officers who voted against it or chose to abstain from voting. My guess is the older officers remember the last time this happened and also know that the problems will not be solved through this vote.

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