But Dominguez’ retirement at the end of this month will give the City Council an opportunity to make changes from the top to address the concerns of those clamoring for a civilian review board.
Dominguez is rightfully credited for his efforts to increase the number of officers serving on the force. But actions by his officers have resulted in the loss of life and cost the city millions of dollars in legal settlements.
The family of Antonio Valenzuela settled their case for $6.5 million after he died in a police choke hold, which was allowed at the time. The family of Amelia Baca settled for $2.75 million after a call for help in a mental health crisis was answered with fatal gunshots.
The local chapter of the NAACP has called for a federal investigation into what it alleges is a practice of excessive use of force against minorities.
To be clear, those concerned about police use of force won’t be the only ones weighing in during the municipal election. Others are equally concerned about a rise in property crimes that has made our city a more dangerous, less desirable place to live. They argue that police need to be supported as they take the lead in addressing these problems.
Las Cruces will present a challenge for whoever our new police chief is. A shortage of affordable housing means we have too many people living on the street. We have a language challenge that proved to be deadly in the Baca case. And, we have serious problems with addiction and access to mental health care.
The current City Council, mayor and city manager are likely divided on which priorities should come first. Which is why they should not be the ones making the decision.
The city should promote from within to appoint an interim chief who is well known and respected in the department and can ensure stability until a new chief is named. And, they should begin the process of seeking and accepting applications from leaders in law enforcement from throughout the country.
But the final decision should be made by the new mayor and new City Council that takes office after the election in November.
That would give voters the chance to weigh in by selecting candidates who are more aligned with their position. More importantly, it will give the new City Council the opportunity to select a police chief who reflects their values and is committed to achieving the same goals as they are.
This will be the most important hiring decision that the city will make this year. Our search should be thorough and extensive. But before making a final decision there needs to be agreement as to what exactly they are searching for.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com
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