Bloomfield rallies behind police department, interim chief
Citizens ask to have Randon Matthews appointed chief
BLOOMFIELD — Bloomfield residents rallied around their shrinking police department Monday night, asking the City Council to make interim Chief Randon Matthews the police chief and to keep the police department under city management.
Residents, business owners and police officers packed the City Council chambers Monday evening after hearing that the City Council was going to discuss the police chief position. The topic was taken off the agenda before it was printed partially because Councilor Ken Hare was not able to make the meeting.
After hearing from more than a dozen community members, including police officers, the City Council asked the city staff to begin the process of filling the vacant police chief position.
"It was great to have that support," Matthews said after the meeting. He has been serving as the interim police chief since June.
Since taking over as interim police chief, Matthews has increased community involvement, and business owners say they feel safer because of efforts Matthews has made to check on their businesses.
The city of Bloomfield began exploring the possibility of contracting with the county for law enforcement services earlier this year. Undersheriff Shane Ferrari has evaluated the police department and provided the City Council with information about contracting with his agency. The City Council has cited Bloomfield's money woes, as well as the department's difficulty in hiring and retaining officers, as reasons to consider the move.
Since April, the department has lost nine officers. It currently has 16 officers, which is all the city has budgeted for this year. Officials say the department needs at least 18 officers to operate adequately.
Two councilors say they support keeping a city-run police department
City Councilors Matt Pennington and Curtis Lynch said they want the police department to remain under city control. The city began the discussions with the San Juan County Sheriff's Office earlier this year as part of the city's efforts to cut spending.
"We can talk numbers all day long," Pennington said. "But when it comes down to it, it's about service."
Lynch said the city's finances are looking better than they were earlier this year, although the budget is still not in great shape. He said he does not support contracting for law enforcement services.
"It's not going to happen, I think, as far as I'm concerned," Lynch said.
He said the police department solidifies the community.
"Yeah, we've been short on money," Lynch said. "But we'll get through it."
Police officers voice support for interim chief
"Randon Matthews epitomizes what the department stands for," said Derek Booker, who joined the police department in March after leaving the Farmington Police Department.
Officer Logan McKinney said Matthews is the type of leader Bloomfield needs.
"I know for certain the officers standing in this room would charge the gates of hell with water guns for this man," McKinney said.
McKinney said Matthews has met the goals the City Council set for him when he was made the interim chief. He said those goals included increasing community involvement. He cited the creation of programs like a neighborhood watch, the 9 p.m. routine — a nightly post on social media to remind people to lock their doors — and the citizens police academy, as well as using the Stop!t app to reduce crime.
"Chief Matthews has implemented and improved more community involvement and outreach programs than any chief prior in the history of Bloomfield Police Department," he said.
McKinney said Matthews has tackled crime progressively and proactively, leading to increased arrests and a decline in crime.
He cited statistics that he said showed a 56 percent decrease in larceny and theft, a 37 percent decrease in motor vehicle theft, a 60 percent reduction in traffic collisions and a more than 40 percent increase in traffic citations since Matthews became interim chief.
Mayor asks for interview process before choosing new chief
Pennington asked that a motion to appoint Matthews to the police chief position be placed on the Dec. 10 City Council agenda.
Mayor Cynthia Atencio said she would consider putting it on the agenda "after we talk to the public." A woman in the audience shouted that the public was there and asked for the discussion to begin.
Atencio said she wanted to open the position to applicants. She said there are other qualified local candidates who may be interested in applying, and over the past 22 years, every police chief in Bloomfield has gone through an interview process.
"I do believe in the process, and I think it would be less of a liability for the city if we went through the process and not just appoint," she said.
City policy does not require an interview process and allows the City Council to appoint department heads such as police chiefs. Since Atencio took office, the City Council has appointed a city manager and a city clerk without an interview process. Bloomfield Fire Chief John Mohler also was appointed without an interview process.
When asked after the meeting to clarify her statement, Atencio said she was referring solely to the police chief position and not to the other department heads.
Pennington said during the meeting he does not have a problem going through the interview process as long as it can be done quickly. He said the decision has been put off for too long and asked if it could be completed by the end of the year.
"(The police department) is, I would say, the biggest issue we have in the city," he said. "We need to get this figured out now, 'cause the people in the city are done waiting. The officers are done waiting."
Former police chief weighs in
Former police chief Mike Kovacs said during the meeting he had to go through three panel hearings and answer 30 questions before he was hired. Kovacs served as deputy chief from 2006 until 2008 and was hired as chief in 2008.
"Why would you guys take this process and just (appoint) somebody?" Kovacs asked.
Kovacs expressed support for Matthews to be the next chief, but he said Matthews should go through the same process he did.
Kovacs also spoke about the city considering contracting with the county for law enforcement. He said the city has studied contracting with the county before.
Kovacs described the police department as the identity of the city of Bloomfield.
"There's not one person in this room that's going to let you take the police department away," Kovacs said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.