Goodbye, Gallagher

An exit interview with the chief of police

Patrick Gallagher's last day as chief of the Santa Fe Police Department is this Friday Dec. 15. He'll take the same job in Las Cruces in a month.

"It's been an honor to be the chief; I had a great run," he tells SFR when asked to review his nearly two and a half years in the top job in the capital city force. "I met some great people, and there are tremendous police officers in the city. The people of Santa Fe should know that they have a very good and very competent police department."

Gallagher, who served on the New York City police force for most of his nearly 30-year police career, says that while he's proud of the job he did, he had hoped to make more of a "positive impact" on reducing property crimes in Santa Fe, particularly auto and residential burglaries.

He doesn't seem to have major regrets about other events he oversaw that received blowback from Santa Feans, though. The ACLU, for example, is planning to file a lawsuit against the city after police allegedly violated protesters' civil rights when eight were arrested in September for protesting against the annual Entrada pageant. Charges were later dropped.

"I'm thankful nobody was injured. I have no problem with what has done," he tells SFR in an interview during his last weeks on the job. "The fact that there was a lot of a lot of tension between the two groups the year before. … We knew we needed to keep those groups apart. So I stand by that decision."

He also demurs when asked if the police department is lacking in crisis intervention training for interacting with mental illness, an issue that went front-and-center with a fatal police shooting this year. Gallagher says police "can always use more training" when it comes to vulnerable populations.

"Society in general has to find a way to stop or at least lessen the amount of times police officers are forced to deal with these problems," he says. "There's got to be a way at the state and federal level to divert them somehow, to divert that problem away from having to deal with law enforcement."

Under his tenure, Gallagher says, SFPD started a special enforcement team consisting of five cops who "go out to areas that have been hard-hit by automobile burglaries and residential burglaries which thankfully are decreasing this year." He says many of these crimes are committed by the same handful of people, which was a reason policymakers cited for creating the city's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program.

Gallagher admits that he was initially "skeptical" of the LEAD program, which seeks to deliver people arrested for low-level crimes to addiction and social services rather than the courts, but warmed up to it eventually after a preliminary cost-benefit analysis from the city found that it reduced recidivism and costs. He hopes to bring a version of LEAD to Las Cruces.

Gallagher says the LEAD program suffered a bit after the departure of now-retired SFPD Capt. Jerome Sanchez, an enthusiastic proponent of the program. But now, Gallagher says, SFPD "has a new lieutenant who kind of took it over and is again selling it to the officers," some of whom still need convincing on the program's merits.

It's difficult to get a complete picture of crime around the city, Gallagher says, because the police department's antiquated records management system doesn't keep an accurate account of service calls from the areas of the city annexed from the county in recent years—though he says the city has plans to update the system.

His move to Las Cruces was convenient for a number of reasons: He has been an at-will employee under Mayor Javier Gonzales, and had no guarantee of a job here around the time the position in Las Cruces opened up. It's also where his wife's family lives.

What about transparency? Gallagher isn't very enthusiastic about making officers' disciplinary records public, as other departments in New Mexico do. Mayor Javier Gonzales recently sent a letter to Attorney General Hector Balderas asking for clarity on how to read the statute governing the matter.

"We're having a tough enough recruiting problem already," he says. "I understand that the public has a right to know certain things. If an officer gets disciplined for having an argument with his wife, that might be very embarrassing to the whole family. Should it be front-page news?"

In fact, SFR has heard from rank-and-file officers that several of them actually support greater transparency. They allege that SFPD leadership goes light on command-level officers while street cops are disciplined harshly, and that the secrecy policy is meant to sink the whole ship so the bosses can swim.

Gallagher acknowledged that factionalism exists within SFPD. He says it may be wiser for the next chief to come from outside the department.

"If it's a new chief, it's somebody from the outside without those ties; he or she won't have that problem. If it's somebody from the inside, they might have to run into that problem," he says. "Because there's always that perception that people have, that, 'Oh, he's just gonna be one of the gang, he's gonna protect his guys.' That's something that can be dealt with. To sit in this chair, to have favorites, to do that—you won't last long, that's for sure."

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