After eight years marked by several controversial officer-involved shootings, multi-million dollar verdicts and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, Albuquerque is getting a new police chief. Last week Mayor Richard Berry announced that Albuquerque Police Deputy Chief Allen Banks will take command of the city's police force on August 3, the retirement date of current APD Chief Ray Schultz. Banks will serve as the department's interim chief until a permanent replacement is found for embattled Schultz, who is retiring after a 31-year career, including nearly a decade as the police Chief.
“It has been my honor to serve the citizens of Albuquerque for the past eight years as Chief of Police. I can retire from APD knowing that the Department is in good hands with Interim Chief Banks,” Schultz said. “The department is well-funded and well-equipped and positioned perfectly to continue to move forward.”
During his eight-year tenure as police chief, Schultz received his fair share of both criticism and praise. He is credited with bringing the FBI crime rate to a 20-year low; that decrease includes a drastic reduction in violent crime, a 25 percent decrease in murder and a 15 percent decrease in rape. In addition to the overall drop in the city's violent crime rate, Schultz is credited with making some pretty sweeping departmental changes. He introduced new technology like lapel cameras that record officers' interactions with the public. Schultz is also credited with creating the Family Advocacy Center, which helps victims of domestic violence, and the Albuquerque Prisoner Transport Unit and Facility.
“Chief Schultz is a tremendous leader and has brought about real change at APD,” Mayor Berry said. “Albuquerque and this mayor are grateful for his leadership and his efforts to make Albuquerque a safer place. His professionalism and his love for the city and the department are greatly appreciated.”
But many in the community disagree with the mayor's rosy description of the soon-to-be former police chief. Civil rights activist Frank Ortega of New Mexico Vecinos United said getting rid of Chief Schultz is the first step toward healing a community that is deeply wounded. “The police chief failed in his mission—the lawsuits, the deaths, everything that occurred up until that point when we finally got the DOJ to investigate and understand what was going on in this town,” Ortega said. “If he is so great, why is he leaving? Why [are] so many people buried?”
Many in the community disagree with the mayor's rosy description of the soon-to-be former police chief. Civil rights activist Frank Ortega of New Mexico Vecinos United said getting rid of Chief Schultz is the first step toward healing a community that is deeply wounded.
Ortega is referring to an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation into APD's use of deadly force. Investigators are asking tough questions to determine if the Albuquerque Police Department engages in a pattern of practices that violate the Constitution or federal law. Since 2010, the department has had 29 officer-involved shootings—resulting in 19 deaths—that are starting to cost the city millions. A district court judge recently ordered the city to pay more than $7 million to the family of Ken Ellis Jr. who was shot and killed by an Albuquerque police detective in January 2010.
Former APD sergeant and present mayoral candidate Paul Heh said if Mayor Berry had lived up to his 2009 campaign promise to rank and file officers and gotten rid of Chief Schultz, much of the city's anguish could have been avoided. A 2012 survey conducted by the Albuquerque Police Officers Association revealed that nearly 100 percent (453 of 456) of officers surveyed thought department morale was low. He contends this low morale is having a devastating impact on the ability of the department to recruit and retain officers.
“People are retiring as quickly as they can retire,” Heh said. “We went from over 1,100 officers to less than 850. They can't recruit anybody.” He said the department's recruiting woes can be attributed to a lack of leadership coming from the Chief's office, which surfaced after Schultz decided to be a politician and play to the media. “Whatever made him look good, that is what he did. If an officer was right, it didn't matter; if the media thought he was wrong, he would throw that officer under the bus,” Heh said.
Stephanie Lopez, APD police union president, said that officers are looking forward to Interim Chief Banks' independent leadership to guide the department through these tough times. She said she believes the deputy chief will find success as interim chief if he stays out of politics and remember that officers are “his first priority.”
Born and raised in Albuquerque, Banks started his career in law enforcement in 1992. He served as a patrol officer in both the Valley and Northeast Command until he made sergeant in 2001. Shortly after taking office in 2009, Mayor Berry promoted Banks to Deputy Chief and retained Schultz as Chief of Police. As Deputy Chief of Field Services, Banks currently oversees the largest department within APD. “I consider serving this city as a great honor. Being asked by Mayor Berry to be the interim Chief is a position I am humbled to fill. It is with the utmost dignity and respect for our community that I look forward to the opportunities ahead,” Banks said.
Former Mayor Martin Chavez originally named Ray Schultz as APD Chief to replace Gil Gallegos in 2005. Gallegos was forced out over a scandal involving the department's evidence room. Deputy Chief Banks said he hasn't decided whether he would toss his hat in the pool of candidates for Chief. Mayor Berry said he will let the winner of the upcoming mayoral election decide on a new police chief.