Mayor Sharon King and Portales city council members praised the Portales Police Department and Chief Jeff Gill on Tuesday evening at their bi-monthly city council meeting in light of a 14-page report released last week that was critical of the department's performance.
King said it was important that the department go through a review after the turmoil surrounding the resignation of Deputy Chief Lonnie Berry, who pled no contest to three felony counts of tampering with public records.
Issues cited in the report by FKR Consulting of Rio Rancho included:
- 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.
King said that she expected the report to find some weaknesses but felt the report overall was complimentary of the department and commended Gill for handling business and turning things around within four months of being investigated.
King opened the floor for discussion of the report starting with Gill, asking him if he had any suggestions to correct the deficiencies portrayed in the report.
"We addressed the issues and I embraced the audit," Gill said. "It's always great to get a third set of eyes."
Among improvements Gill plans to make as a result of the report's findings, he mentioned that the department will review their policies and make sure it's realistic for the size of the department to handle.
Gill says he also plans on hiring an evidence and compliance officer to make sure the department adheres to proper policies and handle evidence in a timely manner.
When discussion moved from Gill to the councilors, Ward D Councilor Keith Thomas specifically questioned Gill about issues with chain of command and if the intimidation among his subordinate supervisors had been addressed.
Gill responded by saying that note was specific to an isolated situation and Gill made it clear that officers can always contact him on cell phone if there is an issue.
Councilor Dianne Parker thanked the department for its service and expressed sympathy in regards to the department being criticized.
King said that if there was nothing left to ask of the chief or the department, to let them get back to work.
"The only way to change old culture is to make new culture," said Ward C Counselor Leo Lovett about moving on from this point.
Gill agreed with the sentiment of the city councilors.
"I'd like to move forward and be more responsive to the needs of the community," Gill said.