Report critical of Portales Police Department

The Portales Police Department review report can be viewed here

A 14-page report critical of the Portales Police Department and Chief Jeff Gill in particular portrays a culture rife with officer intimidation, lack of communication and sloppy handling of evidence.

Alisa Boswell: Portales News-Tribune

Sgt. Kirk Wilson reviews outdated evidence in evidence room on Friday afternoon. The room contains shelves of outdated evidence currently being disposed of by Wilson.

The report by FKR Consulting of Rio Rancho is an audit ordered by the Portales City Council after Deputy Chief Lonnie Berry was charged last year with three felony counts of tampering with public records. The report was distributed to city council members last week.

Berry resigned from office and pleaded no contest to the charges.

The report notes that Gill's management style was one of trust, placing "tremendous" authority in his subordinate supervisors.

"This trust and management style," the report said, "created an informal organizational structure coupled with delegation of duties (and) effectively screened the chief from the actual operation of the department."

On Friday, Gill said he agreed with most of the findings in the report and accepted full responsibility. He said he has already addressed most of the issues criticized in the report and taken a more hands-on approach to running the department.

Alisa Boswell: Portales News-Tribune

Sgt. Kirk Wilson reviews inventory in Evidence Room Two Friday afternoon. Wilson said he submitted a letter of interest to Portales Chief Jeff Gill for the newly created position of compliance and evidence officer. The position is being created to keep evidence, records and policies more organized and secure.

"I'll take the blame," Gill said. "The responsibility is mine and all I can tell you is I'm going to fix it. I've taken big steps to fix it and I'm taking more."

Among issues cited by the FKR Consulting:

  • Fear among patrol officers to break chain of command and report violations of policy and procedure.
  • Failure to inspect two evidence rooms in violation of department policy.
  • Failure to destroy evidence no longer needed or return found property in a timely manner. Some evidence no longer needed dated back to 1986 in one of two evidence rooms.
  • Numerous technical violations concerning firearms, including issuing weapons to officers without documenting proficiency evaluations or qualifications as required by New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy rules. "Over time," the report said, "a culture developed that did not encourage officers/employees to bring new ideas or differing opinions forward nor were they encouraged to report any weakness in the systems. Some (officers) hold the view that they were discouraged from speaking out or reporting violations."

Auditors noted that since Berry's resignation, Gill has begun significant change and "Generally the officers and employees feel they can approach the chief with their concerns."

But on a recent return visit to the department after their first assessment in March, authors of the report noted:

"Despite this new understanding we did observe instances where employees still felt intimidated by supervisors when asked to perform a task that was in violation of policy and a sense of frustration or indignation on the part of a supervisor when a report or document was provided and its accuracy or compliance with policy was questioned.

"This," the report said, "is a clear indication of the effect of the 'old' culture."

Gill said since the review of police department policies and procedures, he has more actively re-enforced his open-door policy to ensure department personnel they can come talk to him anytime about any issue.

"We are changing and we're going to get better," Gill said. "We've had staff meetings where I have told staff that they can come see me. Anyone can come to me, day or night, anytime for anything without fear of being reprimanded."

Although the report doesn't make note of it, former Portales Police Officer Tyler Marney initiated the investigation of Berry by going to District Attorney Matt Chandler with his concerns. At the time, Marney was severely reprimanded by Gill for breaking chain of command, records show.

Marney has since resigned from the force and both he and Gill said they are forbidden by a confidential agreement from discussing details of his departure.

"The officers felt uncomfortable going around the deputy chief to talk to me," Gill said. "That comes down to the retraining of the staff and letting them know the previous situation is not going to occur again. We sent them (department supervisors) off to modern leadership classes to re-enforce that."

Berry did not respond to requests for comment.

Gill said despite the review's findings, he is pleased with the report's outcome. He also said all evidence has been inventoried and none was missing or unaccounted for.

"I think it's fair and it's accurate," Gill said of the report. "The only issue I've found in this deal was that there was old evidence that needed to be destroyed and wasn't."

Gill said Evidence Room One, which contains older evidence from outdated cases, was recently inventoried and the evidence officer is in the process of destroying outdated evidence. He said he will also very shortly assign an officer to do nothing but book and keep track of evidence.

He said the department's policy and procedure handbook is also being reviewed and revised.

Portales Mayor Sharon King said she also felt positive about the results of the report.

"A lot of that for me is after the situation with Lonnie Berry, you feel nervous about your department, so to have law enforcement professionals come in and say, you have nothing major to be concerned about, is re-assuring," King said. "I saw it as a very positive thing that I didn't have a whole lot of problems to be concerned about in that department as I had first thought I would."

Some city councilors, however, are not feeling so positive about the results of the review.

"I'm very proud of the men and women that work out there but at the same time, I'm disappointed in the findings of that report," said Councilor Keith Thomas. "We have some issues that need to be addressed immediately."

Councilor Michael Lucero was more blunt.

"He (Gill) fell asleep at the wheel," Lucero said. "The chief should have known what his guys were doing. That's what he's there for. (But) there's a lot of times you don't know what they're doing because they're good at hiding it."

Lucero said he would like to talk to the police chief and officers in person to get better insight into the situation.

King said the report has been placed on the council agenda for discussion Tuesday.

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