Tension rises at APD as Keller looks for a new police chief

Mayor Tim Keller and former Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier along with Interim Chief Harold Medina gathered at a press conference earlier last year. (Ludella Awad / NM News Port)

By Ludella Awad / NM News Port

The Albuquerque Police Department is engaged in some self-assessment and image-polishing as Mayor Tim Keller conducts a national search for a new police chief.

It’s been a month since former Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier announced his sudden retirement at a press conference. Geier has since told New Mexico News Port that Keller forced him out of the job.

“I didn’t get a chance to do everything I wanted to do before I retired, ” Geier said, grading his progress on a hypothetical scale. “ If a 10 was a perfect score, I’d say somewhere around a seven plus.”

Keller avoided rating Geier’s performance at a recent press conference.

“What I have said from day one is that he did a lot of good work in year one and we did a lot of that together and that was a good thing for our department in terms of restructuring,” Keller said. “But 2020 was challenging. We were just behind on a lot of things in respect to reform and crime fighting.”

The back and forth over Geier’s leadership is playing out publicly as both Geier and some APD top brass argue about the past and future of the department.

In an interview with New Mexico News Port, Geier reflected on his three years as chief, his legacy at the department and his thoughts on where the city is heading with crime and reform efforts.

Geier said with many ongoing internal affairs investigations at the department, more should be done to bring back public trust. He said it starts off with “weeding” out the bad officers.

New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colon conducted an internal affairs investigation a few months ago after his office said they found enough “red flags” concerning police overtime practices.

“There is a point where if you are unfit for the service you should not be part of it,” Geier said. “All it takes is that one or two bad apples to spoil the whole bunch.”

Geier said he had the authority as police chief to run programs and decide placement of people, but his main concern was the involvement of the city government. He said politics often got in the way.

“The mayor makes every effort to be very transparent, but raw numbers and data don’t really show the true picture,” Geier said. “I think sometimes there is a disconnect in law enforcement with politics and that it’s two different worlds.”

In an opinion piece published by the Albuquerque Journal, Geier defended his tenure and blamed Keller and interim chief Harold Medina for undermining his crime fighting efforts.

“The mayor refused to sign grants providing critical resources needed to fight violent crime and the current interim chief failed to even get this program off the ground,” Geier wrote. “I wonder how many shootings and homicides could have been prevented had the mayor and interim chief put their personal interests and political aspirations aside to simply support public safety.”

In an opposing opinion piece also published by the Journal, five deputy chiefs — Michael Smathers, Donovan Olvera, Eric Garcia, Art Gonzalez and J.J. Griego — argued that Geier’s departure was good for APD because he failed to enforce reform efforts.

“We also shared the sad experience of watching Geier foster an unhealthy environment that undermined our efforts to fight crime, succeed at reform and embrace the need to change the culture. Geier claims that his leadership of APD was under attack. But at the end of the day he failed to support his entire command staff and his front-line officers,” they wrote.

Geier claims he was instrumental in reforming the department under the Department of Justice settlement agreement reached in 2014 with the goal of stopping excessive use of force by officers. He said he led the department to meet stricter requirements for training and transparency.

“Our former policies were very vague with use of force. It allowed a wide range of discretion,” Geier said. “Often uses of force weren’t even reported.”

Some in the community, like the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, are hopeful about the future of the department now that Geier has departed.

“The APOA is excited about the new direction in leadership at the Albuquerque Police Department. We look forward to assisting with the search for a new chief and continuing our support of current and future reform efforts,” APOA President Shaun Willoughby said.

Meanwhile, APD Forward — a community coalition made up of “concerned Albuquerque citizens who want to see APD become the responsible, community-friendly police department we know it can be” — has delivered a petition to Keller demanding more accountability and transparency from the next APOA contract, which has yet to be negotiated.

New Mexico News Port’s full interview with Mike Geier can be viewed here

Ludella Awad is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. She can be reached on Facebook or at nmnewsport@gmail.com.