A horrible video has popped up in the Santa Fe and New Mexico news media. Every profession has its share of bad people. There are doctors who rape people while they are under anesthesia. There are lawyers who steal peoples life earnings, teachers who take advantage sexually of the students whose lives are entrusted to them, and even priests who abuse children sexually. There are bad people in my chosen profession also. Yes there are bad cops, cops who make all the rest of us look bad.
Every day there are thousands of cops who do the right thing and they will never make the headlines with as big of a splash or stay in the headlines as long as the ones who do bad. Unfortunately there are two ways a cop makes the headlines for more than a day. When they are a bad cop and when they die in the line of duty.
The current case is now becoming a part of the political scene. A local race for mayor is being thrust into the police abuse that occurred in 2007. Usually the incumbent mayor is saddled with the burden of anything an officer does under his watch, even though the mayor really does not have any direct oversight of the individual officers. In this race the shoe is on the other foot. The leading opponent of Mayor David Coss has aligned herself with the police and fire unions. Asenath Kepler initially garnered the police union endorsement after deep divides in the police union allowed Allen Lopez to become president and Adam Gallegos to become Vice President. I know both officers well, I was Allen's training officer in 1989 or 1990 when he was a young rookie and Adam worked for the Sheriff's Office before his discontent and anti management views drove him to leave and go work for the City Police. I thought that Adam would start over at the city and leave his discontent behind but from all indications he has transferred that discontent to a new police administration. It is unfortunately also my understanding that Allen Lopez has joined the ranks of the malcontent as well.
At the Santa Fe City Police the union has a history of electing those who are most vocal against the administration or those who have an axe to grind. This is unfortunate since the growth and success of the police department is dependent upon good management/union relations. What union members there have not yet figured out is that smart effective union leaders are better for the union as a whole than angry ineffective leaders. It is worse when those leaders are facing disciplinary actions themselves or have had a troubled past. The Santa Fe Police Officers Association (the union) is a chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. I have great respect and admiration for the Fraternal Order of Police as I was the former local Vice-President of the F.O.P. and former union president of the P.O.A. . However locally the F.O.P. and P.O.A. have become wayward children of the National Organization. The Santa Fe F.O.P. is near bankruptcy and the P.O.A. is in shambles.
On top of all that we come back to the incident I started this blog post with. The reprehensible beating of the 17 year old suspect who was in handcuffs at the time is embarrassing to watch and there is no way to justify what happened on that day. Yet Sergeant Allen Lopez the police president continues to give statements to the media that these officers, two of whom were fired, should have kept their jobs. There is statements from the mayor that the police union pressured him to intervene in the firings and indications that the reasons the police union did not endorse Mayor Coss was because the mayor refused to intervene. In another city police disciplinary described in a story in the Santa Fe Reporter an officers testimony about an incident was proven to be false in audio recordings and he was fired. The mayor was also asked to intervene and again the police union president was claiming termination was too harsh. An officers word means everything in court and when you are caught in a lie your career is over. As a former City Police Union President I can say it was unethical and outside of the provisions of the Union Contract to ask the mayor to intervene in these disciplinary actions. I give big kudos to Mayor Coss for not allowing politics and union pressure to enter in to what was the right thing to do.
When a union president allows himself to be portrayed in the media as defending bad officers their credibility in the public becomes unreliable and their influence on the public for political endorsements and asking for the public's help when it is time for raises and other needs becomes diminished. As a former union president I can say that the union has a responsibility to assist its members through the disciplinary process and support them to a conclusion. They need to balance that responsibility with their responsibility to provide effective leadership to the rest of the union members as well and allowing the union to look foolish in the media and the public eye does not further their cause. Yes there are bad cops and the rest of us in law enforcement must speak out the loudest when we see them disrespect the profession we all love. Only then will the public believe that we are not all the same.