'If it is a situation needing direct intervention and no other police officers around, then his acts should be protected by his oath' -- Former police union president
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Albuquerque Aviation Police Department Chief Marshall Katz was suspended, in part, because he sent aviation officers off the airport’s premises to handle calls that Albuquerque police officers couldn’t, or didn’t have time to, a source told ABQ Free Press Monday.
The 40-day suspension began last week. In its notification to Katz of the suspension, the city cited the fact that he had dispatched aviation officers off premises to handle regular police calls, the source said. The letter said that posed liability issues for the city, and that it constituted a misuse of public money, the source said.
But APD Police Chief Gorden Eden was aware of some of those instances of where Aviation police were sent to regular police calls, the source said, adding that Katz is fighting the suspension.
Katz and Mayor Richard Berry’s administration have refused to answer ABQ Free Press’ questions about the suspension. The newspaper has sent five emails, texts and voice messages to Berry’s spokeswoman, Rhiannon Schroeder. She has failed to respond to those messages. The paper also left two messages for Berry on his personal cell phone. He has failed to return those calls.
The city’s letter to Katz apparently did not detail the instances in which he allegedly dispatched aviation cops to regular APD calls. The source said it has happened “less than a half a dozen times” during Katz’s 13-year term has chief of the Aviation police.
One of those cases apparently involved an incident where Katz had stopped at a car crash scene on Coors Boulevard on his way home from work one day, the source said. Katz apparently called APD dispatch for help, but was told there were no officers available because of someone was threatening to commit suicide by jumping from an Interstate 40 overpass.
ABQ Free Press broke the story about Katz’s suspension on Friday night.
Aviation cops are fully certified police officers, but are not part of APD.
If Katz did send members of his 40-person department to regular police calls, that only highlights the staffing crisis at APD, said retired police officer Dan Klein, who is also an ABQ Free Press columnist.
“ Those officers [at the airport] are all sworn and certified, and after the two murders we’ve had here — of Lilly Garcia and Officer Daniel Webster, I think Katz is a real hero for stepping up, and not only wanting to help APD, but the entire community,” Klein said. “We are all blue, and he showed that.
Retired APD cop Mark Bralley, a former APOA president, said Katz could have been justified in dispatching Aviation police to APD calls. “If it is a situation needing direct intervention and no other police officers around, then his acts should be protected by his oath,” Bralley said. “This is a direct slap at the inability of APD to handle the depth and breadth of calls that are out there.”
APD is budgeted for 1,000 officers, but has fewer than 850. More than 50 officers have left the department so far this year, and at least 65 more are expected to retire at the end of the year, said Albuquerque City Councilor Ken Sanchez.
Berry has blamed APD’s staffing woes on the New Mexico Legislature for failing to pass a return-to-work law that would allow retired cops to collect a pension and return to their old jobs at full salaries. Berry has also claimed that police departments across the state are in crisis because they can’t hire or retain officers. ABQ Free Press surveyed 29 of the state’s 33 sheriff’s departments, and around 30 municipal police departments. Collectively, they were staffed at more than 90 percent of their budgeted manpower.