Santa Fe doesn't seem likely to defund the police anytime soon. But a new policing task force will spend the next three months examining the role of police in keeping the community safe, Mayor Alan Webber announced Monday at a weekly press briefing.
He also announced that a proposed ordinance would prohibit city police from using "no-knock" warrants to enter into the homes of residents without first announcing themselves.
Policies that allow no-knock warrants have come under national scrutiny since March, when police in Louisville, Kentucky, shot and killed Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency medical technician who was asleep in her home when officers entered the apartment unannounced in the middle of the night with a no-knock search warrant.
At the briefing, Webber said he was responding in part to conversation about policing unfolding on the national scene, but also reaffirmed his support of the Santa Fe Police Department.
"We want our police department to continue to be there to serve and protect us, and we also know that policing is fundamentally about trust," the mayor said. "We want to do everything that we can to step into this moment nationally, this moment of revisiting policing, revisiting social and racial justice and public health."
Councilor Chris Rivera, a former city fire chief, will lead the task force along with Councilor Renee Villarreal. It will have nine members in total, said Rivera, and will include at least one member from each of the four city council districts.
Rivera said the purpose of the new task force is to "see where we can reinvent ourselves" and improve public safety, perhaps through "collaborating with other city agencies, maybe other private agencies" to meet the needs of community policing and find new ways to respond to sensitive situations such as mental health crises.
This could include examination of topic including the training officers receive and their expected workload to policies for use of force and officer misconduct, said Rivera.
Amidst the national outcry against police brutality, members of Santa Fe's governing body have brought up the issue of policing at multiple committee and department meetings in recent weeks, citing an influx of questions from locals about defunding the Santa Fe Police Department.
The mayor has repeatedly stated his intent to preserve police budgets as much as possible in the effort to prioritize public health and safety in the face of the continued COVID-19 crisis and a massive revenue shortfall that requires city officials to cut up to $100 million from the budget for the current fiscal year. City officials will propose cuts to each department at the budget hearings that begin next week.
At Monday's briefing, the mayor did not indicate that his stance on police funding has changed.
"When you look at the data about the demands we put on our police officers and the number of service calls they're asked to respond to as well as initiate, we are trying to make sure that public safety doesn't suffer while we are balancing it with public health," Webber said. "The budget will attempt to respond to that balancing act as best we can."
In July 2019, the city commissioned an independent assessment of SFPD staffing needs by the National Police Foundation that found chronic understaffing and stagnant salaries were taking a toll on the department. Understaffing made it difficult for officers to practice community policing because they could barely keep up with the volume of calls they received; put pressure on officers to work more overtime shifts; and contributed to retention issues, the foundation found.
The city's new policing task force will take a second look at staffing and funding among other inquiries, said Rivera, though he also brought up issues such as the threat of school shootings to underscore the necessity of having a well-staffed and funded police department.
He said community members interested in serving on the committee should send in their resumes to their city councilor for review or to Kristine Mihelcic, the director of Constituent and Council Services. Mihelcic said the city would release instructions for interested applicants soon.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a change in the schedule for the city's budget hearings. They begin Monday, July 20, at 1:00pm.