Acting chief brings short-term stability to SFPD
Acting Chief Andrew Padilla acknowledges Santa Fe police are ready for some long-term continuity. Perhaps that’s to be expected in a department that has seen three chiefs in five years, two people sharing control over the department in the past 3½ months and no long-term successor for at least a while longer.
“They’re looking for that stability,” Padilla said Wednesday. “They want someone here for the long haul. Someone they can trust, someone they can respect. Someone that understands the department.”
The search for that someone is on — new Mayor Alan Webber is soliciting applications for the police chief position until April 16. Afterward, Webber said, he’ll invite community members to weigh in on the choices. So far, there’s no timeline for when a long-term chief will be named.
“As soon as possible, but time is less important than getting the right person,” Webber said.
But, he added, “I don’t want to leave anybody wondering what the future is going to be. That’s bad management. There’s a point in time where you have to make a decision, or you’ve left people hanging for too long. We’re mindful of both.”
So, for now, it’s Padilla, a deputy chief who recently was named acting chief by Webber, who was elected mayor earlier this month.
Until February, Padilla and then-Deputy Chief Mario Salbidrez had run the department together in the absence of former Chief Patrick Gallagher, who left late last year to take the top job at the Las Cruces Police Department. Salbidrez, however, resigned last month to become the security director at Santa Fe Public Schools.
Padilla, a nearly 20-year veteran of the force, said he equates the leadership turnover to a revolving door: A chief comes in with his or her own goals and ambitions, gets some plans up and running, and then departs — leaving a new chief to repeat the short-term cycle.
Santa Fe police, Padilla said, are tired of the changes.
In the short term, Webber said, appointing Padilla as acting chief was an effort to bring clarity to the chain of command within the Santa Fe Police Department. In this role, Padilla makes $108,000 a year.
“The police department is really an organization where a chain of command is absolutely critical for them to be able to do their jobs well, effectively, without second-guessing themselves,” Webber said.
Padilla said he wants to be the chief on a long-term basis. But if he isn’t selected by the new administration, he said, he’ll remain with the police force.
“I love this department,” he said. “I’ve given lots of blood, sweat and tears to this department. … I have many years left in me to serve this department, serve this community.”
Webber said he doesn’t want Padilla to consider his appointment as a tryout.
“If it becomes clear that [Padilla] becomes the best person for the job,” Webber said, “he’ll earn it on that basis, not on a high-visibility audition.”
While he waits to see what the future will hold, Padilla said he is working on a few goals — hiring more staff and getting back to the basics of community policing.
On the staffing front, Padilla said the department needs to fill 15 positions. He hopes to have at least a handful of new hires on board by July, when the next class of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy convenes.
He’s also hoping to work with the mayor and the police union to come up with a pay scale that will keep officers in Santa Fe while New Mexico State Police and law enforcement officers in Bernalillo County get raises, he said.
In the meantime, Padilla has asked officers to do a better job getting out of their cars and engaging with the neighborhoods they patrol. This past week, he’s done the same, introducing himself at businesses around town.
Next week, when students are back in school — most are out this week on spring break — he wants officers to meet administrators, kids and school staff in the areas they patrol.
“They need to make the effort to introduce themselves to the community. It builds rapport with the community, and it lets them know that we’re here to help them,” Padilla said.
“The community should feel safe and be expecting these patrol officers to get out of their patrol cars and be introducing themselves, just to let them know: This is who we are. We are SFPD, and if you see something, let us know,” he said.
Contact Sami Edge at 505-986-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.