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Santa Fe County sheriff candidates, Sheriff Adan Mendoza, left, and Santa Fe police Lt. David Webb, debate May 11 at a League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County event May 11 at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center.

The Democratic primary race for Santa Fe County sheriff pits a veteran of the office against a Santa Fe police lieutenant hoping to infuse new leadership.

The incumbent, Sheriff Adan Mendoza, 49, has worked his entire 18-year law enforcement career at the sheriff’s office, retiring in 2016 as a major. He ran for sheriff in 2018 and won, becoming the county’s 54th sheriff.

Mendoza said he could have opted not to run again and “call it a day at the top of my game” but was interested in seeing through some of the projects and pilots launched under his watch.

“We love what we do; we love the sheriff’s office,” Mendoza said. “We love this community, and I believe we are making a impact on the community.

“That is what prompted me to run for reelection,” he added.

His opponent, David Webb Jr., 36, has spent 14 years working for the Santa Fe Police Department following a three-year stint with the sheriff’s office.

He said he’s the right person to come in and provide leadership for the office, which he said was sorely lacking.

“I don’t see leadership at the sheriff’s office right now,” Webb said. “There is no communications with other agencies. It is kind of like we are going to do it our way, and that is what it is.”

Because there are no Republicans or Libertarians running for the position, the June 7 Democratic primary likely will decide the sheriff’s race.

Mendoza touted his almost four years in office as a time of change for the department.

He said under his watch, he helped expand and seek out grant funding for the county’s sex offender program to expand surveillance and enforcement of sex offender registration and compliance around the county.

He also noted two programs that kicked off under his watch: the ABLE program — Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement — which provides training for personnel on how to intervene during instances of officer misconduct, and the LEAD program — Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.

During his first term, he also reviewed policies on use of force, body-worn cameras and pursuits, rewriting them to ensure they complied with state law.

Mendoza said the sheriff’s office is open to any additional programs meant to deal with mental health and addiction problems.

“I think my philosophy is we need to be tough on crime when we need to be and compassionate when we can,” he said. “That works on a few different levels. We want to make sure that the people who are victimizing our community are held accountable, are adjudicated and removed from doing harm in our community.”

Mendoza said he would like to keep that ball rolling, especially after feeling he lost so much time weathering the coronavirus pandemic. He considers that one of his greater accomplishments but also said he felt stifled by its impact.

Community engagement wasn’t handled the way he would have wanted, he said, but also engagement with staff and other deputies on the force.

“I want to spend the next year building that back up,” he said.

Webb said he already has the support of local law enforcement, touting a series of endorsements, including from Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputies, county firefighters, Santa Fe city police, and police and fire personnel from Española.

Webb, who said he comes from “generations of policing within Santa Fe,” said he started his career in law enforcement at 12 as a member of the city police department’s Explorer Program before starting as a medical dispatcher in high school.

He then worked as a public safety aide with the police department for a year before transferring to the sheriff’s office at 22, where he stayed for three years before heading back to the city department.

Webb said his ideas for the sheriff’s office include continued support of the community policing philosophy, while also leaning on better data and equipment to support deputies.

“I have been lucky enough that I have seen law enforcement evolve,” he said. “I know what was good when I was child and what law enforcement did well. I also know what they lacked.”

He also wants to improve crisis intervention training. He said currently, law enforcement agencies are seen as a catch-all for a litany of different mental health calls.

He said he wants to strengthen ties between different law enforcement agencies across the county, noting jurisdictional boundaries give criminals an advantage.

“If we continue down this path with separating these entities, we are only giving the criminals the upper hand,” he said. “These jurisdictional boundaries do not exist to them.”

If elected, Webb will be asked to oversee a county that includes several small communities, including Edgewood, Cerrillos and Madrid, as well as parts of Española.

He said communication will help solve some of the issues plaguing these areas.

“We need to change that dynamic,” he said. “I intend on having meetings … and sharing information and data with the public. I want to share with the neighboring agencies — ‘Are you seeing the same thing?’ We can’t say the same things happening in Edgewood are also happening in Española.”

The race has had controversy.

Eddie Webb, a cousin of David Webb, leads the local deputies union that on Jan. 31 delivered a letter to county officials saying it had held a vote of no confidence in Mendoza.

The letter lists 14 allegations against Mendoza — including lack of transparency, unfair disciplinary practices, retaliation, violations of the New Mexico Fair Labor Standards Act regarding overtime pay and “cronyism” — and says union members “overwhelmingly approved” the vote of no confidence. Another key problem the letter cites is a high rate of turnover.

David Webb said he had nothing to do with the vote and that his cousin already has said he is willing to resign from the union post if he were elected sheriff.

Still, David Webb said the merits of the letter were warranted and should be taken into consideration.

“The deputies are in need of a change,” he said.

Mendoza said he didn’t know about the vote until he received the letter and felt if he were given the chance, “I think myself and the union could have identified some true issues that need to be worked on.”

He added, “Not to give that opportunity was disingenuous.”

Mendoza said he fully believes the relationship between union leadership and his opponent had “a lot” to do with the vote of no confidence and was unconvinced his opponent had nothing to do with the result.

“Law enforcement community is very tightknit,” he said. “I am not sure of my opponent knew about it or not, but I will leave that up to your readers to decide.”

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