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Let next council pick police chief


The retirement of Las Cruces Police Chief Miguel Dominguez will not end the effort to create a civilian police review board. A petition drive seeking to force that issue has already been started; it will undoubtedly be a topic candidates will be asked to address during the upcoming municipal election, when the mayor and three council seats will be on the ballot.

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.

The new police chief will need to be able to address both of those competing priorities.

The current City Council, mayor and city manager are likely divided on which prioritie+s 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 in January after the Nov. 7 election.

That would give voters the chance to weigh in by selecting candidates who are more aligned with their position. More important, 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.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com