The Santa Fe Police Department will go chiefless for nearly two months when Chief Patrick Gallagher moves south to take the helm at the Las Cruces Police Department in January, City Manager Brian Snyder tells SFR.
Rather than hire an interim boss for the fourth-largest department in the state, Snyder says two SFPD mainstays, Deputy Chiefs Mario Salbidrez and Andrew Padilla, will run the show until a new mayor is elected in March and appoints a permanent chief.
The two second-in-commands have earned Snyder's trust "in their ability to step in and maintain the continuity" of the department, he writes in an emailed response to questions.
Their presence, according to Snyder, "gives us the ability to rely on them to keep us moving forward, and with the administration transitioning in just a few months, that's exactly what we plan to do. [Deputy Chief] Salbidrez will continue to oversee operations, and Deputy Chief Padilla will continue to oversee administration, and they will report directly to me as the City Manager."
Padilla tells SFR "no services will be interrupted" in the city between Dec. 15, when Gallagher assumes his new post, and the March swearing-in of the new mayor.
"The police department will continue on with or without a police chief, and we'll continue on," he says.
But the transition between SFPD police chiefs has not always been as smooth as Padilla describes.
The last full-time chief, Eric Garcia, stepped down from the post in 2015 after only 13 months.
Garcia left following pressure from police commanders who accused him of fostering a hostile environment and cronyism on behalf of political allies within the department, including the leadership of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association.
SFPD commanding officers and the next chief also will inherit some thorny personnel issues, some of which were discussed at a City Council meeting this week.
At that meeting, city councilors approved the most recent set of agreements between the union and the city. They included greater employment rights for officers under investigation for workplace harassment and a 2 percent raise for union employees who completed their probationary periods by July 1.
The pay bump will last one year, but can be extended during future negotiations between the city and the police union, Padilla told councilors.
During a round of questions from councilors tangentially related to the matter of the union contract, Snyder said the department had filled all but nine officer vacancies in the police department but noted areas where recruitment efforts could be improved in the city's eyes.
"I've been meeting with [the chief] and deputy chiefs, looking at how we can avoid the large upswings and downswings [of vacancies] within the department and stabilize with more continuity," he said, adding that they have discussed building stronger ties with Santa Fe's two high schools and single community college to "create more of a stream of local officers that … don't have a desire to move away."
Councilor Joseph Maestas, who is running to replace Javier Gonzales as mayor, said he wanted to see a "detailed analysis" of the need for officers in areas the city has annexed from the county during the last several years. In previous conversations, he said, Chief Gallagher had told him 11 additional officers are needed to patrol the areas.
Snyder noted that Gallagher has suggested 15 new officers as the city completes additional annexations. But he said filling existing vacancies remains the city's priority.
After 20 minutes of discussion, councilors unanimously approved the agreement between the police union and the city.