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Amanda Chavez, front, and Rebecca Romero, candidates for City Council District 4, participate in a debate Tuesday at The Santa Fe New Mexican. Both see policing and public safety as key issues in their race.

By the time District 4 City Council candidate Amanda Chavez had finished knocking on a few doors for the

Nov. 2 election, she had added a new priority to her platform: public safety.

Chavez, the special education director for Santa Fe Public Schools, a former principal at César Chávez Elementary School and a former member of the city’s Planning Commission, said concerns were clearly beginning to boil over in the south-central district.

“As I started going door to door, it was public safety that was mentioned the most,” she said. “Repeatedly, a lot of individuals were thinking of public safety.”

Opponent Rebecca Romero expressed similar sentiments, saying it’s an issue not just in her district but throughout Santa Fe.

Romero, a management analyst with the state Department of Health, said a primary focus for her is addressing staffing issues within the Santa Fe Police Department to more evenly spread out law enforcement resources.

“We need to find out a better way to recruit officers to keep them in our city,” she said. “If we can figure out and maintain successful recruitment, we would have enough officers to keep in each district.”

In March, the department reported its highest number of vacancies in five years — 33 officers — straining already-limited resources.

Chavez said she recently met with the Santa Fe Police Officers Association alongside Councilors Roman “Tiger” Abeyta and Signe Lindell to gather feedback and came away believing the city should examine some of the ways it recruits.

She said would-be officers might be attracted by amenities such as newer vehicles and a more streamlined and accessible path for professional growth — offerings the city might be overlooking.

“A lot [of the vehicles] are old,” Chavez said. “That is not great when we have a new recruit. I know it sounds like it’s not important. But it is; that is their office.”

Romero said one of the primary complaints she heard as she knocked on doors involved police responsiveness, which she said was a byproduct of the department’s staffing.

“They aren’t ignoring calls,” she said. “It’s they can’t make it to every single call that is out right now.”

The city revamped its recruitment efforts as it approved its fiscal year 2022 budget, but Romero said she doesn’t believe it goes far enough to edge out area departments such as the Albuquerque Police Department.

The city offered a $15,000 recruiting bonus for experienced officers who started the hiring process before April 30, as well as 160 hours of leave. The department also has a car take-home program for officers who commute to work.

Romero said she favors pay raises for police officers, to help recruit and retain them and help them deal with Santa Fe’s higher-than-average cost of living.

Chavez said she also favors pay increases, but the city needs to get more creative and engaging with its recruiting process. Candidates are attracted by more than just a paycheck, she said.

“The bonuses are great, but then what?” Chavez said. “They ask that question. And I think that is a great question. What do I look forward to?”

Without being critical, both candidates said they felt police Chief Andrew Padilla’s recent retirement announcement offered a good opportunity to start rethinking certain department approaches.

Chavez said she saw it as an “exciting” moment for Santa Fe.

“I am sure the department is uneasy about the change,” she said. “But I feel like with new city leadership and within that department, I actually think we’re in a great place to have those conversations.”

One of the conversations Chavez hopes to have involves the interplay between gun violence and crime, and wellness and trauma.

“They have to address wellness,” she said. “We’re ranked as one of the worst states to raise a child. Those rankings are not changing. Every community from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, wellness is something we have to start paying attention to.”

Romero said she is concerned about a lack of programs for children in District 4, especially after the pandemic shuttered schools and other vital resources last year.

“If they are not busy and they are bored, they are going to find something they’re not supposed to be getting into,” Romero said.

Chavez said a stronger communication among the city, police and the City Council would lead to a more robust discussion about how to tackle issues like youth gun violence and homelessness.

“We have the dedicated people,” she said. “I want to emphasize that. Our police officers are often so criticized, but here in Santa Fe, we have people who are stretched so thin. But they are OK with it because they know it is what it takes to keep Santa Fe safe. Communication will fix a lot of those issues.”

Romero agreed, stating she wanted to bring “trust” back between the department and the council.

“It can’t just be the governing body,” she said. “To make these decisions, ideas have to come from within the police department. It has to be a partnership.”

(10) comments

Dan Frazier

To hire more cops, you have to think like a cop. What do cops want? Better donut shops! Donut shops in more convenient locations. Could we install a donut-making machine in the new patrol cars? Then I'm sure we would have no shortage of cops!

Francisco Carbajal

Dan Frazier, comatose thinking on your part. Have you ever considered in checking in with a neurologist to ascertain if the cortex of your brain is functioning (e.g., amnesia, loss of memory, etc.)? I am concerned. Take care of yourself, buddy!

Francisco Carbajal

Chris Mechels, congrats on your new leadership role and designation "King of the Platitude." Seriously, is this all you have to contribute to educating a city councilor candidate about your so-called "Reform the Police Department?" Why not just reframe your "platitude" term to "King of the Nullity?" Empty words with no definition and substance in the matter.

Patrick Brockwell

Platitudes indeed. Even those are weak. My experience as a city employee was riddled with frustration and lack of support from above. The work culture of the City requires one to be able to work without caring in order to survive the job. I had to quit.

Partnership is not what exists. The attitude from the Mayor down through City Manager, HR and Finance is that employees are lucky to have a job and they should quietly do as told, even when told to be less than mediocre. Nobody wants to do a poor job. I worked at the golf course, clearly not a vital function of City Government, nevertheless a responsibility of City. The golf course staffing and facility are in shambles. Heck, the golf course front gate has been wrecked for over a year, it is "secured" by one strand of baling wire, or less. Four workers are trying to do the job of 15. I can only imagine how unfulfilling it is to be a Police Officer and be treated poorly while trying to keep the city safe. As they say, the fish rots from the head. It is time to change things from the top down, starting with the Strong Mayor and his appointees in top jobs on Lincoln Avenue. I have never worked under such poor and inept managers in my 50+ years in the workforce. I have a friend, a business owner, who says "People love to be led and they hate to be managed and they know the difference". We need leadership at the top, it is terribly lacking for city employees right now. Rebecca, here is another answer for the "Governing Body"; Train Management to listen to and support workers. The current paradigm is outdated and ineffective.

Chris Mechels

Platitudes.... about what you'd expect. SFPD gets the worst training in the state, right here at the LEA Academy, and the curriculum has been illegal since 2013. Not a word of that... Platitudes... a typical Santa Fe election. And the Mayor is great at the platitude game, one of the best.

Rebecca Romero

Hey Chris!

Thank you for the comment. With the questions asked we don’t see the full answer. I as one candidate want better training for SFPD, not only from basic classes to learning how to handle mental health issues. I want a better training system for all officers to get the training they need.

Thank you!

Francisco Carbajal

Estimada Rebecaa, don't trust the wolf that hides behind the fence during the election cycle. The wolves are out. Trust your sixth sense and go with it.

Chris Mechels

Thanks, Rebecca, for the feedback. I've had NO luck raising these issue with Chief Padilla, he just smiles. We need a REFORM chief, and the Council would perhaps have to fight Webber over that, as he's busy doing "happy news". The current SFPD Use of Force policy is excellent, and the Pursuit policy is workable, but they must be enforced. SFPD Officer Guzman, now a SF Sheriff Deputy, "executed" a suspect in Eldorado, violated all the policies, and got away with it. DA Serna wouldn't prosecute. Serious reforms needed, including retraining the officers. Good luck.

Francisco Carbajal

Chris Mechels, so if the "Current SFPD Use of Force policy is excellent, and the Pursuit policy is workable," the enforcement process of these policies are complimented by the Chief of Police who operates the entire operational functions of the department. However, it has always been a "Standard Operating Procedures" to forward all officer-related shootings to the local District Attorney's Office for review and disposition. In this case with a former SFPD Officer Guzman, the case was forwarded to the District Attorney's Office and it was "legally" ruled "JUSTIFIED.' Said that, the sole responsibility and accountability for that specific legal decision to not prosecute was the Santa Fe District Attorney's Office, period! Lastly, who are you to make allegations of the department's use of force policy and authorized to disparage Mr. Guzman with a false narrative, unbecoming a police officer, slander and defamation of character? Frankly, you don't even know Mr. Guzman on a personal and professional level anyways. Seriously, for the public statements that you have posted in the past about specific persons with names and so forth, I really hope that each one of them would file a libel, slander and defamation of character lawsuit against you in the First Judicial District Court. I bet this would shut it for your cause once and for all, including your supporter's (e.g. Lupe Molina, etc.).

Lupe Molina

Exactly right, Chris. The department needs resources but we also need accountability. Either candidate would do well to say they will increase resources, but that comes with an increase in oversight. Hopefully the next chief will not be able to dodge accountability like the current one has.

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