Santa Fe’s next police chief will have a host of challenges to tackle, from trouble recruiting and retaining officers in an increasingly-expensive city and a tenuous relationship with the district attorney’s office, to building community trust amid concerns over civil rights abuses.
The finalists for the position, Paul Joye, interim chief of SFPD, and Andrew Rodriguez, deputy chief of the Rio Rancho Police Department, who emerged from an initial pool of 10, offered how they’d address those issues and others at a livestreamed question-and-answer session Thursday evening.
It was the last—and the first held publicly—in a series of meetings spearheaded by City Manager John Blair and Community Health and Safety Department Director Kyra Ochoa to identify the successor to former Chief Andrew Padilla, who retired in December.
Questions submitted through a community survey that closed Feb. 25 formed the basis for Thursday night’s forum, with Blair and Ochoa choosing eight of them for each finalist.
Asked why they want the job, Joye and Rodriguez both focused on what they described as their long-standing commitment to public service.
Joye joined SFPD in 2006 and was promoted to deputy chief in 2019. Rodriguez, meanwhile, began his law enforcement career in Los Angeles in 1995, according to his resume. He transferred to Rio Rancho in 2006 and was promoted to deputy chief in 2020.
“This department is my family, this community is my home,” said Joye, who lives in Lamy, according to his application.
Rodriguez cast himself as the outsider, saying he’s aware of problems with recruitment, retention and morale. RRPD has “overcome” the latter, partly due to his efforts, Rodriguez said, adding that he would move to Santa Fe if selected.
Several residents who responded to the city’s survey asked what the finalists would do to protect Santa Feans’ civil rights. (Asked what qualities the chief should have, 221 out of 336 survey respondents said “values protecting civil rights.”)
“We have to have equitable treatment of everyone,” Rodriguez said. “How we accomplish that is through continuous training…One thing that is a pet peeve of mine is if law enforcement officers try to find a workaround of the Constitution instead of respecting it. We will hold those officers accountable.”
Joye mentioned the creation of the Community Health and Safety Department in the fall of 2020. The police department, along with a few others, including fire, report to Ochoa.
That’s helped the police department “better understand what [the community’s] concerns are with us…and how we can better bridge that gap,” Joye said.
Residents also asked how the finalists would handle a destructive protest.
SFPD and Mayor Alan Webber took heavy criticism for their decision to stand down when protesters toppled the Plaza obelisk in 2020. They’d previously been caught flack for a contrary response: a heavy-handed approach to demonstrations against the now-vanished Entrada portion of Fiestas de Santa Fe three years prior.
Rodriguez cited planning and “working with the community to ensure that you don’t have destruction.”
“You have to make sure that you have communication with people at a large gathering and understand who those leaders are and you work with them,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes you assist them in achieving their goals and expressing their First Amendment rights and you let them know what you will tolerate and what you will not tolerate.”
Joye also pointed to the importance of planning and assessing potentially volatile situations from multiple angles.
“Best-case scenario, we can intervene, apprehend the people that are causing the destruction and bring them to justice immediately and remove them from the situation that hopefully doesn’t escalate the people that are there,” Joye said. “At worst, we have to work to identify the parties that are involved and bring charges against them later. The number one concern has to be the safety of the people there and around the facility.”
Some residents asked what the finalists would do to ensure cases the department sends to the district attorney “are properly prepared and supported by the necessary evidence.” (Asked what the chief should focus on, 60 survey respondents answered “improvement of quality of cases submitted to the DA.”)
Last September, First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies’ office sent a letter to SFPD brass citing a shoddy investigation and laying out numerous missing elements from a high-profile 2020 homicide case that forced the DA to drop charges against the accused.
Rodriguez and Joye both stressed communication.
“Working with other organizations…requires good communication, good collaboration and strong leadership,” Rodriguez said. “I’m known as a diplomat where I currently work and am always the one that people ring up on the phone when there’s an issue.”
Rodriguez said his department has regular meetings with the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which includes Rio Rancho. That “builds trust” and “a strong relationship,” he said, adding that those meetings allow the department to address any issues that arise, including trouble in the evidence room.
An audit conducted by a private firm and released in 2020 found dozens of deficiencies with the Santa Fe Police Department’s collection, handling and storage of evidence.
Joye said with his prior experience as a detective in Santa Fe, he “knows how cases should be put together” and “what needs to be done to make sure that our cases are being prosecuted effectively.”
Seamless communication between SFPD and Carmack-Altwies’ office has been a goal, but not a reality, during the past year-plus. However, she told SFR last month that the relationship between her office and the police department has improved in the past few months, since Joye became interim chief.
City Manager John Blair has said he expects to announce his choice for the next chief by the end of March.