On June 7, Santa Fe County voters will decide whether to keep their 54th sheriff, Adan Mendoza, or move on to No. 55 with Santa Fe Police Department Lt. David Webb Jr.
Santa Fe County spans 1,900-square miles, encompassing the City of Santa Fe, Española and a collection of small towns and rural communities. With no Republicans on the ballot, the upcoming Democratic primary election will determine whether Mendoza or Webb, both Democrats, gets the job as independently elected sheriff.
They’re both career law-enforcement officers. Mendoza, 49, served 18 years with the sheriff’s department before retiring as a major in 2016 and winning election to his first term in 2018. Webb, 36, has worked at the Santa Fe Police Department for the past 14 years, following a three-year stint with the sheriff’s office.
Mendoza lists running the department during a pandemic among his accomplishments.
“This is something that was unprecedented as a sheriff,” he says. “It was a difficult situation: making sure that people stayed at work. There were severe budget restrictions and we navigated that as an administration, as the sheriff and as a department as a whole.”
Mendoza says he’s updated the department’s use-of-force and pursuit policies, and he’s purchased training simulators for real-life situations, acquired more emergency vehicles and created an automated payment system for fines and fees. It’s the next four years he has his sights on, though.
The No. 1 priority for Mendoza is recruitment and retention, which he says will increase community safety.
“Of course we’re competing with other agencies,” he says. “Now that the governor has given the State Police a raise, it creates a cycle of trying to catch up and trying to be competitive. So that’s going to be our goal—to maintain good salaries and good benefits to try and keep the people we have and recruit more deputies.”
Mendoza wants to expand the Santa Fe Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which allows deputies to provide community-based health services to people with addiction, mental or behavioral issues rather than taking them to jail. He also intends on growing the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement program, empowering deputies to report misconduct by other officers.
“I say that we train extensively to police the community, but we really don’t train how to police ourselves sometimes,” Mendoza tells SFR.
Should he win re-election, the incumbent plans on bolstering communications within the department to shore up gaps in radio transmissions. He also wants to win accreditation for the department through the New Mexico Association of Counties, a nonprofit organization representing the state’s 33 counties, to increase the minimum amount of training and strengthen policies and procedures.
Webb’s journey in law enforcement began when he became a Santa Fe Police Explorer at age 12. He went on to work as a dispatcher for the Santa Fe Regional Communications Center in high school and, at 18, he signed on as a public safety aide with SFPD’s traffic team. A year later, he went to work as a sheriff’s deputy, before moving back to the police department at the age of 22.
“At the PD, I have been a part of, supervised and commanded all units that the Santa Fe Police Department has to offer,” Webb says. “I truly believe in progressive policing, which is thinking outside the box, not [being] stuck in the same old thing, because, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it.’”
Webb’s vision for the sheriff’s department unfolds in what he calls a five-pronged approach. The first step is to embolden the “community-policing philosophy by giving the community a voice again.”
“One of the areas that I care about deeply is the implementation of crisis-intervention training,” Webb tells SFR. “In law enforcement, we’re kind of having to be the jack of all trades and respond to everything possible. The latest is responding to those affected by mental illness. I think we can better serve our community and not resort to use of force immediately and try to build that rapport.”
Webb plans to hire a master instructor to develop a course for deputies on handling “highly-litigated” situations and using data to determine areas of improvement.
“I want to implement the use of technology, whatever that can look like for us, to help us out with internet crimes against children cases, human trafficking cases, license plate readers and things like that to speed up and streamline our investigations,” he says.
Lastly, Webb wants to reconnect the sheriff’s department with neighboring agencies. As it stands now, he says, area law enforcement entities don’t communicate enough, “giving the criminal element the advantage.”
There’s been static on the campaign trail.
In January, the Santa Fe County Deputies Association delivered a letter to county officials saying its members had voted no confidence in Mendoza’s leadership. The union also accused the sheriff of unfair disciplinary and promotion practices, lack of transparency, high turnover rates and violations of labor laws.
Mendoza feels he worked well with the union, calling the association’s letter disingenuous and “politically motivated,” pointing out that Webb’s first cousin is the union leader.
“The way problems are solved and the way problems are dealt with is I’m notified of the issue and we work together to try to resolve those issues,” he says. “I feel like I wasn’t given an opportunity to address the issues that they felt there were.”
Webb says he had no prior knowledge of the union vote, calling Mendoza’s assertion “a far stretch.”
“I was shocked, to say the least, that the sheriff, instead of addressing the issues in the letter and saying there are some things we could work on, went to the whole other side by saying it was a politically motivated attack because it’s campaign season,” Webb tells SFR.
Come June, the voters will decide whether Mendoza is the right man for the job, though; not the union. He says his management and administrative experience “sets me apart,” and is key to moving the department forward.
Webb, meanwhile, asserts the issues outlined by the association need to be addressed, “and I’m the guy to do it.”