12 August 2015

Hanging by Your Fingernails

by David Edgerley Gates

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, here's another story from the New Mexico headlines.


Santa Fe's police chief just resigned. Eric Garcia was on the job for about a year and a day. His immediate predecessor, Ray Rael, served a little under three years. Before that, there was Aric Wheeler (two years), Eric Johnson (three), Beverly Lennen (three), and John Denko (four), which is some kind of record. By comparison, Cathy Lanier in Washington, DC, has been the chief there for fifteen years.    

Why this pattern? you ask. We're talking about a police force with only 150+ officers, serving a population of some 69,000, which is a crappy staffing ratio, in a town with surprisingly high crime statistics for its size. Drug trafficking, gang-bangers, road rage, domestic violence, all the weaknesses flesh is heir to. From what I hear, morale in the rank-and-file, patrol officers, is pretty good, but they don't have much trust in chain of command. There seems to be a real issue with senior management. As a for instance, Chief Garcia was undermined by a group of his lieutenants who wrote a memo - leaked to the press - to the city manager, accusing the chief of favoritism in hiring practices and creating a hostile work environment. Might be something to it. In any case, it made his job all but impossible, and he quit.

It may well be that running a smaller police department is tougher than running a big one. Everybody probably knows everybody, and people hold grudges, promotions, salary levels, territory. It gets parochial. Any of us who've worked in a hierarchal company model, whether it's the military or a cubical farm, know you have to put up with dicks. It applies across the board. But active sabotage, trying to degrade a guy's authority and effectiveness, is a different order of business. It's sedition.

What happens in a situation like this, not to put too fine a point on
it, is that it jeopardizes public safety, for one, and it puts working cops in a bad position, too. If you've lost faith in the people serving over you, you're leaderless. Good generalship is as much about creating a climate of confidence as it is about strategy and politics, or communication skills. In other words, you follow a business plan. If this were the private sector, the Santa Fe PD would be in Chapter 11. I don't have anything prescriptive to suggest, because I'm not on the inside, but it seems pretty obvious the next chief can't come from the inside, because the internal divisions run too deep. Maybe it's not my place to say, but it's an embarrassment.


On the other hand, speaking as a writer, it makes for terrific soap opera, sorry to say. I like nothing better than blood in the water, everybody at daggers drawn. I use this kind of stuff all the time. It's red meat. Nothing like a good turf fight to bring out the worst. I just wish I didn't have such a wealth of material. It sucks.

3 comments:

janice law said...

The sad truth is that the public works overtime for the crime writer!

Leigh Lundin said...

I like that photo of Fluffy. I wouldn't expect to find too many alligators in New Mexico, David.

Eve Fisher said...

Yeah, there's nothing like a small town - or small city - for feuds that never die. And making it almost impossible to get rid of bad people, because there's simply not enough people to re-staff positions, so you have to put up with what you have. And sometimes... shudder.