Santa Fe police Chief Andrew Padilla’s announcement last week of his plans to retire in early December — just after an election in which city voters will choose their next mayor — took some city officials by surprise.
“It’s all brand-new news to me, and I’m still somewhat digesting it,” said Councilor Michael Garcia.
Padilla, who said the election played no role in his decision, plans to step down Dec. 3 after 31/2 years in the position — and nearly a month before the next mayor takes office Jan. 1 with the power to appoint a new police chief. He said he wants to spend more time with friends and family.
Mayor Alan Webber, who is running for reelection Nov. 2, and other city officials said they hope Padilla’s successor will continue some of the community engagement initiatives that began under his watch while also bringing improvements to the Santa Fe Police Department.
After Padilla’s retirement announcement Monday, Webber said he wasn’t in a hurry to name a successor to the chief. “He’s given us enough time so we don’t have to rush,” the mayor said.
In an interview Thursday, Webber said the transition period is a time to look at the “practices, policies and capabilities” a modern law enforcement agency needs.
“It’s a little early to go into real detail,” he said of the type of person he would like to appoint as Padilla’s replacement. “But some of the qualities would be someone who is very aware of the changing challenges of policing … and can look both internally and support the members of the department and then connect externally with the community.”
The city is looking for a successor who is a “good ambassador” for recruitment and retention of police officers, understands the challenges of social media, and can address health and safety factors, Webber added.
The police department has wrangled with personnel shortages, in part because departments in Albuquerque and elsewhere are poaching officers to deal with their own staffing issues. The city has responded during Padilla’s tenure with incentives such as signing bonuses.
Under Padilla, the city also developed the Alternative Response Unit, a combined effort of the police and fire departments to respond to low-threat calls, often involving people struggling with mental health crises or simply in need of community services rather than a jail cell. Webber said he hopes the effort will continue.
When it comes to successfully prosecuting crimes, he said, “If I’m the mayor, I’d like to see a chief who works well with the District Attorney’s Office, so that there’s cross collaboration between the work of the police department and the work of prosecuting the crimes the police department brings into the DA’s Office.”
The police department struggled in recent years with an evidence room in disarray, which impeded the prosecution of some violent crimes, including homicides.
In 2020, the department came under intense scrutiny again after evidence collected in a 2018 sexual assault case involving a 4-year-old girl went missing.
More recently, the District Attorney’s Office dismissed charges against a young man accused of fatally shooting a teen in July 2020, due to lack of evidence from the police department. The office “determined that the case must go back to the investigating agency for further review” and evidence gathering, prosecutors wrote in a motion dismissing a charge of first-degree murder and other counts against 18-year-old Mario Guizar-Anchondo, who was accused of killing 17-year-old Ivan Perez.
Webber said the qualities he’s looking for in Padilla’s successor do not reflect any inadequacies he sees in the chief.
City Councilor Joanne Vigil Coppler, who is challenging Webber in the mayoral race, credited Padilla for his leadership and commitment to the department.
If she is elected mayor, Vigil Coppler said, she will seek feedback from officers to learn what they would like to see in their next chief.
She has no preference of whether Padilla’s successor comes from inside the agency or elsewhere, she said.
“The most important thing is: Do they know how to manage people?” Vigil Coppler said. “Secondly, are they well trained? Are they up to date on the latest training and type of policing that a city needs? All of that is important.”
Rebecca Hildebrandt, president of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association, said the union wishes Padilla the best and hopes his successor will “make the department better than it already is.”
“We’re looking for someone that’s willing to support us and what we do,” she said. “It’s a very hard, hard job, hard on our families. We just want someone that’ll support this department and the people that will work for whoever the next chief is.”
Garcia said he wishes Padilla well and is grateful for the time the chief has served Santa Fe. Padilla is a 21-year veteran of the city police department.
Councilor Jamie Cassutt, who also was surprised to learn of Padilla’s upcoming retirement, said: “I think that it’ll be important that we find somebody who will continue some of the work that the governing body has started regarding how we reimagine public safety. It’s more of a holistic approach.”