Mayor Richard Berry expects to name a new police chief in March -- but it won't be interim chief Allen Banks.
A leading candidate to head the Albuquerque Police Department, Banks announced Wednesday he is taking a job in Round Rock, Texas, just north of Austin.
Berry had tapped Banks last year to become the interim police chief while a national search is conducted. He also called Banks, the first African-American to lead the department, an "absolutely tremendous candidate" to keep the job. The change in leadership comes at a critical time. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether APD has a pattern or practice of violating people's civil rights.
Banks, an Albuquerque native who joined the police force in 1992, said leaving was a tough decision, but best for his family. He is married, with three children.
"One of the things I can't do is gamble, and with the nationwide search that's going on, this position wasn't guaranteed to me," Banks said in a video released to officers.
Berry said there are no hard feelings about the interim chief's departure.
He described Banks as a strong candidate for the permanent job here. But he also pointed out that Banks, 42, can leave APD with full retirement benefits for a "great opportunity in another place."
Banks will make $140,000 a year in Round Rock, a city of about 106,000 people, a fraction of the size of Albuquerque. He makes $137,000 at APD.
But retiring from the city of Albuquerque will allow him to draw a pension in addition to his new salary, something he couldn't do if he had remained here. With 21 years of service, he's in line for a pension of about $80,000 a year -- equal to about 74 percent of his average annual pay over his last three years.
Banks can also cash out roughly $160,000 in unused sick and vacation time.
Stephanie Lopez, president of the Albuquerque police officers' union, said she believes Banks left because Berry took too long deciding whether to appoint him to the job permanently.
"I'm very, very saddened," Lopez said in an interview. "I think it's unfortunate that the mayor gave him the runaround for as long as he did. It forced (Banks') hand."
But she added that "whatever agency is going to get him as chief of police will be very lucky and fortunate."
The Journal wasn't able to reach Banks for comment on Wednesday.
Berry pointed out that he had committed to a thorough, nationwide search before naming a new chief.
"I can't tell the community we're going to do a national search and then have a predetermined outcome for the national search," Berry said. "That wouldn't be the right thing to do for anybody."
Banks took over as interim chief of police in August last year. He succeeded Ray Schultz, who announced his retirement after a handful of city councilors said it was time for new leadership.
City Council President Ken Sanchez said Wednesday that Banks' departure is a real loss.
"I'm extremely disappointed and saddened that he's leaving the department," he said.
The application period closes Feb. 17, and Berry said he hopes to have a new chief hired sometime in March.
"We'll bring the absolute best person on for the community and department," Berry said.
He said his top administrator, Rob Perry, will vet the candidates, and Berry will make a decision on whom to hire.
What impact the Department of Justice investigation will have on who applies isn't clear. The city's recruitment brochure for the job mentions that the new chief will have to carry out "findings and recommendations upon completion (date to be determined) of (DOJ's) current on-site review."
The federal investigation includes a look at whether APD does enough to police its officers. The city has faced criticism, and litigation, over the number of people shot by officers.
Albuquerque police have fired at 35 suspects since early 2010, with 22 ending in fatalities. But in one of those cases, the suspect was killed by a State Police officer and, in another, police haven't confirmed whether the suspect died from police fire.
Just this week, the city reached a tentative agreement to settle a shooting case for almost $8 million. That would bring the total payout in cases involving allegations of police misconduct to roughly $24million since the beginning of 2010.
Banks' retirement is effective at the end of February. Berry didn't say whether he expected to hire an interim immediately after that.
"We've got great leaders within APD, so from a continuity standpoint, we don't see any issues," Berry said.
Copyright 2014 - Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
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