Protect & Pray
Santa Fe police rack up overtime for archbishop installation eventLocal NewsTuesday, July 7, 2015
The Santa Fe Police Department spent $16,000 to protect the installation of the new archbishop in a scene so overrun with cops in early June that it led some Santa Feans to question the prudence of the expenditures, including one who exclaimed, “Archbishops are a dime a dozen.”
Of course, those are fighting words in the city of Santa Fe, whose Spanish name, literally translated, means Holy Faith, and where the separation of church and state is sometimes a blurred line.
Whether the Catholic faith played a part, or whether the security detail was merely a precaution in an age of terrorism fears, is now the subject of debate in the aftermath.
But this much is certain: Cops got paid $7,223 for 222 overtime hours, and another 572 regular hours were logged in a special security detail that featured nearly 50 officers patrolling the periphery of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi on June 3 and 4.
That’s according to a cost analysis obtained by SFR through a public records request.
Streets around the church were closed off, and on the day of the archbishop’s installation, a SWAT team and its truck were brought in for the occasion, along with a pair of drug-sniffing dogs; according to eyewitness accounts, at least two snipers took to the roof of a nearby hotel.
Not all of that, to be fair, was due to just Santa Fe police. Instead, it was a conglomeration of federal and state agents along with New Mexico State Police and the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department. Plus, members of the Santa Fe Fire Department were also on hand.
“I was thinking, is the archbishop in jeopardy? Is there something they all know that we don’t know?” asks Guadalupe Goler, the owner of a shoe store in sight of the church. “Unless his life was truly in jeopardy, I think it was an unnecessary show of power. It was a little scary to be honest, because I didn’t know what was going on.”
Walt Borton quickly dashed off a letter to SFR, whereby he described the excessive scene.
“It was reminiscent of a presidential visit,” writes the 68-year-old Borton. “If there was a credible threat—I suppose it makes sense. But if what I saw today was routine security then I hope the Archdiocese is paying for it because this is a clerical official—not a government official—and the taxpayers should not have to foot that kind of security cost except in extraordinary circumstances.”
For the record, the taxpayers did foot the bill, and Santa Fe Police Chief Eric Garcia, in a reply in response to SFR’s records request, defends the actions of his department, saying it was important that the “peace was maintained.”
But Garcia also admits that police were expecting a bigger crowd than the few thousand who ultimately showed up, adding that it is always better to err on the side of caution. Conversely, he says, if something terrible were to have happened during the installation, then police would have been blamed.
“You can’t put a price on safety,” he writes. “We utilized our resources efficiently and ensured that this was a safe and successful event. We had word that there could be five to ten thousand people in the downtown area, so we took every precaution to make sure that peace was maintained.”
On June 4, the Most Rev. John C Wester became the archdiocese’s 12th archbishop in an event that ended Michael J Sheehan’s two-decade tenure.
The massive police presence that morning also spurred rubbernecking among tourists, many of whom were caught off-guard and could be seen asking the officers if anything had gone wrong.
Nope, came the reply. Just routine security surrounding the installation of the archbishop.
For some business owners who flank the Plaza, the commotion was just like any other event that shuts down the public space, from car shows to Fiestas to Indian Market.
“It comes with the territory,” remarks Margaret Hanson of Street Feet, located inside the La Fonda Hotel building. “But I did look twice when the snipers came in with their camouflage.”
Across the street from the church, in front of the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, dozens of uniformed and plainclothes officers met to discuss their day’s assignments, some of them wearing suits and sunglasses; they could have easily passed for Secret Service agents (pictured below).
And by the end of the day, police reported just one arrest: A 51-year-old man was removed from the church when he refused to vacate a pew reserved for one of the dozens of bishops who showed up for the event.
Lt. Andrea Dobyns, a spokeswoman for the police department, argues that the security was well played and that the overtime costs were minimal. Some of the money associated with the detail went to police officers who would have been on duty there anyway, she says.
“It’s not like we busted our overtime budget to do this,” she tells SFR.
It’s the job of the Santa Fe police to protect the community at large, she adds, and the police presence had nothing to do with the fact that it was a Catholic event.
“It’s not like we’re only helping certain groups,” she explains.
But Borton, a marketing and public relations consultant, is still having a hard time with it all.
It was like Turkey under martial law, he claimed in his letter. And this was only on the day of Vespers. It wasn’t even for the big installation itself.
“Maybe for the Pope,” writes Borton, a Nebraska native who’s lived in the City Different since 1996. “But archbishops are a dime a dozen and barely warrant a driver in the real world.”