New Mexico Public Safety Secretary Gorden Eden, center, speak to reporters Friday Feb. 14, 2014, after being introduced as Albuquerque’s new police chief. Eden takes over a police force facing a U.S. Justice Department investigation looking into allegations of excessive force. Also shown are: Mary Eden, right, Dept. of Public safety, Rob Perry, left, and Richard Berry, Mayor of albuquerque. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Public Safety Secretary Gorden Eden was named Friday to lead the troubled Albuquerque Police Department as it works to emerge from a federal probe into allegations of excessive force and dozens of police shootings.
Mayor Richard Berry announced the selection of Eden as police chief after a national search that attracted 45 applicants and two other finalists from Dallas and Houston. Eden is also a former U.S. marshal for New Mexico.
“He the right man for the right time,” said Berry, who introduced Eden and his family at a news conference. “I need a head coach.”
He replaces former Chief Ray Schultz, who retired last year as calls mounted for reform of the department and after the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation into allegations involving excessive force and three dozen shootings by police since 2010.
Critics have blamed the problems on a departmental culture that fosters brutality.
Ralph Arellanes, state director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, has been among those leading the call for reform. He said he will take a “wait and see” approach.
“We still need to review his record as secretary and will look forward to working with him,” Arellanes said. “But we are not going to tolerate what we’ve seen at the department over the past several years.”
As head of DPS, Eden oversaw the state police, which also faced criticism in recent months for a string of shootings, including one by an officer who fired at a van full of children after a chaotic traffic stop near Taos.
State police also have come under fire for the November shooting death of a 39-year-old woman in Santa Fe after a high-speed chase.
Eden said state police weren’t the only agency to see a recent rash of shootings by officers. He said departments across the country were experiencing the same because of “a lack of respect for each other. It’s a lack of respect for human dignity.”
Asked what he’ll do as Albuquerque awaits an outcome from the Justice Department investigation, Eden said he’ll focus on recruiting and retaining police officers. He said he’ll also push for more leadership training for the department’s command staff.
“We don’t what the results of the DOJ results will be,” said Eden, who was a member of the Justice Department as a U.S. marshal. “But we don’t want to stay in a position of doing nothing.”
Eden vowed soon to meet with community members to discuss his vision for the department.
He is scheduled to be sworn-in as chief Feb. 27. He will paid a salary of $158,000, Berry said.
Eden has served a public safety secretary since 2011, when he was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez. He also worked as the state’s Motor Vehicle Division director under former Gov. Gary Johnson and worked with state police and as an official with DPS.
Martinez hailed Eden’s selection as Albuquerque police chief.
“Gorden has devoted his entire adult life to service in public safety and law enforcement,” she said. “His able and steady leadership has guided New Mexico’s law enforcement and public safety personnel, making New Mexico a safer place to live, work and raise a family.”
Arellanes said he hoped Eden wasn’t chosen because he’s a “known entity” among the state’s Republicans but the best person for the job. “This department needs new leadership at this time,” Arellanes said.
Jewel Hall, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center Board and another police department critic, called Eden “an insider” but said he should be given a chance to speak to community members about his plans. “If he comes and extends his hand and listens to everyone, I think it would be very useful,” she said.
Berry, a Republican, said party politics played no role in the selection of Gorden.
“I needed the best fit for the job,” he said.