Portales PD making changes

More than a month after the release of a report critical of the Portales Police Department, the department has made numerous changes and is in the process of more, according to Police Chief Jeff Gill.

Alisa Boswell: Portales News-Tribune

Kim Terry, records clerk for the Portales Police Department, helps a customer. The records departmentn has undergone many changes in the last few months, according to Police Chief Jeff Gill. Along with a locked door with limited access, the office has new supervisor and a lock box for citations.

The 14-page report was the result of a department review ordered by the Portales City Council after former Deputy Chief Lonnie Berry was charged with three felony counts of tampering with evidence and resigned from the department. He later pleaded no contest to the charges.

The report highlighted officer intimidation, problems with evidence and technical violations concerning firearms.

According to Gill, one of the major changes put into place is the creation of the new officer position of professional standards officer, which was given to Sgt. Kirk Wilson, who previously worked in investigations while also tending to evidence.

"The main responsibilities are making sure we're documenting proofs for accreditation, records manager and evidence," Wilson said. "Basically, a lot of organizational things."

Wilson, who has been in the position two weeks, said without having to balance a huge caseload, he can now devote himself completely to not only the organization and destruction of evidence but also the organization of the records office.

"Evidence is something you have to have some focus for and a lot of time," Wilson said. "It's a lot easier to focus on the same skill sets whereas; investigations would have you employing a whole other set of skills."

The main evidence problem highlighted in the report was outdated evidence stored in a separate evidence room from current evidence.

Wilson said the process of destroying evidence involves a lot of paperwork.

He said now that he is in an officer position specifically devoted to organizational tasks, he is logging outdated evidence into the department's computer database, then he will begin the process of obtaining court orders for the destruction of the evidence.

"There were a lot of issues but the outdated evidence really wasn't that big an issue because the only problem was we were securing evidence for too long," Gill said.

Along with the logging and destroying of evidence, Wilson has also taken on being the supervisor for the records office.

Wilson said it is his responsibility to make sure citations and other records are being dealt with appropriately by officers and record clerks.

Gill said changes to records include keeping the office locked with a service window at the front, keeping filing drawers in the same room with the clerks, and officers placing citations into the slot of a lock box instead of the previous practice of placing them into a basket.

"Citations are being handled as securely as humanly possible," Gill said. "This way is much more secure and better."

Wilson, along with a committee made up of fellow officers, is also reviewing the department's policy handbook, cutting it from 420 pages to 250.

"We've gone through and made it realistic for an agency of our size," Gill said. "We're making it user friendly."

Gill said policies in the handbook were outdated, such as one applying to business cards and one to women's haircuts.

He said others were just redundant.

"We've made a conscientious effort to comply with all the suggestions the report made," Gill said. "We are working to become more efficient and accountable," Gill said.

Gill said the creation of Wilson's new position opened up numerous opportunities for other officers in the department.

Lt. Pat Gallegos now works in investigations and patrolman Chris Williams was promoted to sergeant.

"Everything I'm hearing says morale has gone way up and everyone is happy with the way their job is going," Gill said. "A lot of the officers are happy to have the chance to progress."

Officers in the department seemed to agree with Gill that morale is up within the department and all the changes being made are positive.

"The changes are boosting perspective and from a patrolman perspective, it's becoming a more professional environment," said patrolman Paul Crowe. "I feel the changes are going to allow us to serve the citizens of Portales better."

"We want to regain trust with not only other law enforcement agencies but the public," added Williams.

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