FARMINGTON — Farmington police Chief Kyle Westall will retire Dec. 31, after spending just shy of 26 years with the Farmington Police Department.

Westall announced his decision in a memo to Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes on Wednesday.

Westall became acting chief on Dec. 1, 2010, and he was officially appointed to chief in January 2011.

A policy change to New Mexico's Public Employees Retirement Association influenced Westall's decision to retire, he said. The change would have delayed a cost-of-living raise to his pension if he worked for the city into 2014.

The retirement changes for New Mexico's public employees will have a significant effect on the makeup of the Farmington Police Department in the next six months, Westall said.

He said seven of the nine highest-ranking officers will have a financial incentive to retire in the next six months.

Westall said he prepared the department for that turnover by increasing training for sergeants and lieutenants over the last year.

Mayes and Westall reorganized police department positions to "maintain stability" once Westall leaves. Two of the three police captains will become deputy chiefs, resulting in one chief, two deputy chiefs, one captain, one commander and four lieutenants, Mayes said in a memo to the mayor and city councilors.

"I think (Westall's) retirement is a loss to the city. His 25 years of experience will be missed," Mayes said Friday. "We've seen a lot of positives in the department develop related to professionalism, equipment, training and technology and personnel issues."

Mayes said he plans to conducts a national search for a replacement but will also consider internal candidates for the position.

Farmington police have recruited police chiefs from other states in the past, Westall said.

"I imagine I'll have a role in (searching for the next police chief) but I don't know what that role will be," Westall said.

Westall said one of the successes of his administration has been improving transparency in the department.

During his time as chief, police improved their in-car dash cameras, and all patrol officers recently started wearing lapel video cameras to better record their behavior. The department also purchased crime-mapping software so residents can monitor local crime trends online and created Facebook and Twitter accounts to communicate directly with citizens.

Westall said that he increased Farmington police's role in the Region II Narcotics Task Force and within Farmington schools. And, he added, he used his position to lobby for a stronger federal law enforcement presence in San Juan County.

Westall said the hardest situation he dealt with as chief was the death of Sgt. James Thode, who died while serving in Afghanistan on Dec. 2, 2010, the day after Westall was named acting chief.

"Those were some pretty times. ... The tough thing about being chief is that you spend a lot of time worrying about your employees," he said. "Whenever I get those late-night calls, I always worry one of them might be hurt."

Once he retires, Westall said he plans to spend time working on muscle cars on his family's 10 acres of property in Flora Vista.

Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.