Editorial: Plenty of blame to go around at Portales PD

Portales Mayor Sharon King sees a review of the Portales Police Department as a "positive thing."

Police Chief Jeff Gill contends, "The only issue I've found in this deal was that there was old evidence that needed to be destroyed and wasn't."

We don't believe that is a true or complete assessment unless they were reading a different audit and review than the one provided last week from a Rio Rancho consulting firm.

The report declared Gill's management style "effectively screened the chief from the actual operation of the department."

It also found the weapons policy used by officers "may not be clearly understood or followed."

And a section declared "most of the employees" stated department policies "were enforced in an inconsistent manner."

Of course some city leaders, including the police chief, want to put a positive spin on Gill's troubled department. They insist that today's focus should be on changes made the past four months rather than the good-old-boy policies — in place for who knows how many years — that led to the former deputy chief's felony arrest and conviction last year.

Another troubling point related to the report's findings is the blame tossed around when someone asks about issues not so "positive" that are found in the review.

Gill, the chief since 1993, City Manager Tom Howell and others point to discredited ex-deputy chief Lonnie Berry as the reason for most of the problems.

Gill told us: "What happened was the deputy chief, who worked for me for two decades — that I trusted — he did not pass on everything that should have been passed on."

Howell said: "I think he (Berry) was the dam in the middle of the chain of command."

Yes, Berry took advantage of lax policy and procedures and made three traffic citations disappear for a friend. It cost him his career and brought a black eye to the city and the brotherhood of law enforcement.

That begs the question: Where was Gill when all this was happening? How did he miss the signs?

If Berry alone ran the Portales PD into the disorganized, sloppy organization the review depicts, it's because city leadership at the top didn't either seem to care or know enough to stop him.

The community cannot lay all the department's problems at Berry's feet. Certainly his boss must share the blame, if not others above him.

The $4,800 review was money well spent if city leaders accept the findings that Gill's department needs leadership and that there should be oversight of that leadership.

If that isn't accepted and a straightforward plan developed to deal with those points, those tax dollars will have been wasted.

Portales officials, including Chief Gill, should not be allowed to sugarcoat what happened. Now, with knowledge in hand from this report, is a good time to look in the mirror, without any smoke being blown, admit the problems and fix them.

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