Monday, April 20, 2009

Should Police Chiefs Be Elected?

The last time I titled a blog post with a question it created quite a stir. Oh, well I am going to start this blog with a question also. I started as a police officer in 1988 after being hired as a rookie by the Santa Fe City Police Department. The chief of police at the time was Raymond Sisneros also a former Sheriff. He left about 2 years later and became Undersheriff for Sheriff Benjie Montano who is now the soon to retire Deputy Chief of the Santa Fe Police Department.

Next to take the chiefs position was Chief Bobby Lucero who lasted by my memory a little under 4 years. Debbie Jaramillo was elected Mayor in 1994 and Chief Lucero learned his fate after Newly elected Mayor Jaramillo announced on a morning radio talk show that he was fired. An outsider was then brought in as Chief. Chief Donald Grady was brought in during the summer of 1994. Chief Grady was Santa Fe's first black Chief of Police and quickly became controversial not for his race but for his inability to relate to the officers who served under him. It was during this controversial period that I lost the presidency of the police union to an anti Grady faction who used racial overtones to create divisions in the police force. Now I was not pro Grady but I did not agree with my opponents tactics to get rid of Chief Grady. Chief Grady lasted less than 2 years resigning in February of 1996. I left the city police in 1995 and went into private business. The Grady years and my departure from the city police could fill a couple of other blog posts.

Chief Donald Grady

Mayor Jaramillo was not happy with her Chief being driven from the Police Department. The City Police Officers and the Mayor were always at odds and the line officers truly felt the Mayor hated cops and Chief Grady was sent to punish them. Mayor Jaramillo then appointed her brother in law Carlos Jaramillo to the Chiefs Position. Now the initial appointment only served to enrage officers even more and led the media and others to dub Santa Fe Jaramillo Ville. The mayors brother was city manager and now her brother in law was chief. A local radio station started the name by playing a rendition of the song Margarita Ville in which the lyrics were changed to read, "Wastin away again in Jaramillo Ville". I wish I had a copy of the song which was one of the most hilarious parody's I have ever heard. I made a little money during this time selling buttons which had a picture of the sign outside city hall with the "Santa Fe" removed and "Jaramillo Ville" in its place.

Chief John Denko

Chief Jaramillo actually was a laid back get along with the officers kind of guy and he faired much better as chief than anyone initially thought he would. When Mayor Jaramillo lost her re-election bid in 1998 Chief Jaramillo left soon after. The new Mayor Larry Delgado replaced Chief Jaramillo with Chief John Denko in 1999. Former Chief Denko is now the Governors Cabinet Secretary for D.P.S. . He left in 2003 with a little less than four years as Chief.

Chief Beverly Lennen

Beverly Lennen was the next chief to take the helm at the City of Santa Fe Police, becoming the first woman chief in the history of the City of Santa Fe Police Department in 2003. Unmentioned in my previous paragraphs was the fact that Beverly Lennen served as interim chief on several occasions in between many of the chiefs appointments which I described above. Chief Lennen lasted until February of 2006 lasting a few months over 3 years. Finally we get to Chief Eric Johnson, Appointed in 2006 by newly elected Mayor David Coss. Chief Johnson has just announced his retirement which will come on May 29th 2009.

Chief Eric Johnson

I just went through all that to get you to this point. Do you see a pattern here? No chief has lasted a day beyond 4 years during my institutional memory which goes back twenty one years (man I am old ). Now a mayors term lasts 4 years and many are re-elected meaning a possibility of up to eight years serving as chief. Santa Fe Chiefs however do not last. Why is that?

As I look back on the chiefs over the last 20 years there is one very common factor. They are all retired or near retirement. Most candidates will not accept the job of chief unless they are within a year or two of minimum retirement years. This ensures that if they are fired they can just retire. Even with that as a fallback most chiefs in recent years also enter into a contract which says that they can revert to their previous rank should the mayor wish to remove them for any reason except out right malfeasance in office.

Next we must look at the stresses of a City Police Chief. The police chief is clearly a political appointee hired by the Mayor. This ties their job to that of the Mayor. As long as the Mayor remains and supports the Chief, the Chief should stay. However the Chief still has many more supervisors. There is the City Manager, Eight City Councilors, and the Mayor. The Chief must answer to all of them while still answering directly to the public. Imagine answering to ten bosses all wanting attention for the needs of their district. Some of them maybe don't like you just because you are the mayors pick and maybe they are not happy with the mayor or the city manager. Maybe they ran for mayor and lost, or maybe they want to run for mayor and their success may depend upon your failure. Seems like a tough job?

Now lets compare this to the Sheriff. A Sheriff is elected to a four year term by the citizens and the Sheriff ultimately answers only to them. This places the Sheriff on equal footing with the County Commission in that they need the Sheriff to help with concerns in their district just as much as the Sheriff needs the Commissioners for his or her needs such as budgetary and passing ordinances and other needs. The County Manager also needs the Sheriff just as much as the Sheriff needs him. They are all on pretty much equal footing and the need for each other creates a mutual respect whether real or political. I throw that in because regardless of the actual respect the individuals may or may not have for each other, for political reasons their is a need to display to the public the semblance of getting along and respect for the citizens sake.

I also believe that because the Sheriff is elected he or she is more responsive to the media and public relations concerns than a Chief may be because he needs to be sure what he or she is says to the media will meet the approval of the Mayor, City Manager, and eight councilors.

So, what if the Chief of Police was elected? Would we retain chiefs longer, I believe the answer to that is yes. What does that accomplish? It would accomplish more continuity in the chiefs position and less controversy in appointments. I also believe it could allow a chief to spend more time being responsive to the public concerns and less time dealing with city hall. An elected chief would have to be more responsive to the public and during election time lay out a plan for law enforcement in the city. In between elections citizens would decide how well the chief lived up to the campaign promises and the plans laid out during the campaign. Whether percieved or real the meddling accusations against councilors and mayors should be eliminated or greatly decreased. Now this is just an idea thrown out there by a Sheriff who stays up to late at night thinking about things like this and the likelihood of this ever occurring is next to zero. Yet I think it is an interesting concept that deserves some attention.

There are those who say that the Mayor would never give up control of law enforcement because it is one of the basic functions of government. Yet there are even benefits to mayors and city councilors. Having a separate elected police chief would allow the fellow elected councilors and mayor to just point their finger at another elected official when crime issues arise. A quick google search led me to one campaign site where the chief is elected in San Angelo Texas. I also found an editorial in Los Angeles which discusses electing the Los Angeles Police Chief.

A good example of how the public might feel about this issue occurred several years ago when Bernalillo County and The City of Albuquerque presented a proposal to voters to merge the two governments into one metro government. The issue that was most debated and was credited with the defeat of the proposal was that the elected sheriff would be done away with and a police chief would rule over all the new metro government law enforcement. Of course the sheriff spoke out in opposition and the public voted the proposal down. The idea of re-hashing the proposal with an elected sheriff overseeing all law enforcement never quite gained ground and the proposal was never brought up again. Maybe that is a solution to discuss in another blog post, the combining of city and county government in Santa Fe. Of course with an elected sheriff for law enforcement :-) .

So there is an idea thrown out there for debate, criticism, or laughter, I am not sure I even fully agree with the idea as I have not spent enough time hashing out the true details. And as it has often been said the devil is in the details.

What do you think? Vote below.



Anonymous said...

IF this great idea was to become the most acceptable form of local law enforcement in urban districts, then the police would always know they ONLY had to answer to the people and the law, and never to a self serving mayor and council that uses the office and powers of the office of the police chief for their own private reasons. I would like to see the term of the elected police chief begin and end in the middle of the mayors term. This is separation of powers on a local level and I'm all for it. I started studying this idea because of the corruption in our little city in Arizona. Thanks for the blog !

Tom Hyland said...

Hello Greg. I was curious to see if the phrase "Jaramilloville" existed anywhere and decided to google it. This lead me to your article. I am actually the guy who dreamed up the word in the first place. After Debby made her brother-in-law the Chief of Police, I thought to myself... "That's the was we do things here in Jaramilloville." It struck me as a rather funny thing, and being a sign painter that I am, I painted the word on a masonite panel and installed it over the existing city hall sign. I thought that humor might go a long way to defuse a potentially anxious and exasperating event which Mayor Debby created as a surprise to us all. I remember her actions and I felt like everybody in Santa Fe had just been sucker-punched in the gut. The sign was a huge success and accomplished so much more than I ever imagined. I was humming the tune "Wastin' Away in Jaramilloville" while I was painting the sig! I called up Jim Terr, who is a local song writer and poet and I told him what I was doing. I asked him if he would like to write this song into a reality. Jim told me he would only do it for hundreds of dollars, so I let it be. But within a couple of days, the DJ's over at a local radio station wrote the song anyway, and it was a hell of a lot of fun to listen to that being played all the time.

You and I have met before. I told you, in person, that the Sheriff is the ONLY elected police officer in America. And I told you that you hold the immense power to actually eject Federal officer out of Santa Fe County if they have no warrant to be here. Over the years, I'm convinced that you hold the Federal government and its agents in a higher regard than to protect the rights of the citizens which you swore an oath to defend.

I wrote an article that was printed in two parts in a local newspaper a few years back. This article eventually went all over the internet. You fit into the story as a major participant within the obstacles I faced in my dilemma. The underlying problem that most people are not aware of is that the United States was declared bankrupt on March 9, 1933 by President Franklin Roosevelt. The United States is held in receivership by the Federal Reserve, the same folks who print our money, unconstitutionally. We The People actually own NOTHING. All property is held in escrow by the State in service to the Federal Reserve. We don't own our houses, any property, or our cars. The following article focusses on my adventures at MVD, what I did to actually win back the ownership of my car, and how you failed to help me. I'm sending this to you because I imagine you will not be a Sheriff for the rest of your life. You might even go into private business and simply seek to make a living all on your own. That would be a good thing for you to try. But you should understand the underlying system that controls every move we make. Like I said, Greg, you are in this article and maybe some of this will explain why I drew you into this drama. Tom Hyland