Veteran NM lawman faces steep challenge at APD

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Gorden Eden knows it’s a big job.

He’s taking over the state’s largest law enforcement agency, the Albuquerque Police Department, at perhaps the darkest time in the department’s history.

A long string of police shootings, other excessive force incidents, public blunders by officers and APD’s perceived unwillingness to police itself brought the U.S. Department of Justice to Albuquerque at the end of 2012 to launch a sweeping civil rights investigation of APD.

“When I put in my application, I knew the magnitude of the job that waited for me,” said Eden, 59. “It means a lot of work ahead of me, yes … ”

In a whirlwind Friday, the longtime New Mexico lawman was announced at a news conference as APD’s new chief, then put on the hat for his current job as cabinet secretary of the state Department of Public Safety to attend a legislative hearing in Santa Fe.

Complete Coverage: New APD Chief

Afterwards, he sat down for a lengthy interview with KRQE News 13.Eden was guarded and upbeat, saying he doesn’t believe APD is a police department in despair. Asked whether the department needs fixing, he said, “Yeah, it does. And it’s not, I don’t want to make it seem like a department that’s in deep trouble. It’s not. There are things we can do better.”

In a seven-point document titled “Gorden Eden Jr.’s plan for the first 100 days,” which city officials distributed at Friday’s news conference, Eden was perhaps a little more candid.

According to the document and Eden’s comments during the interview, he plans to meet with every member of APD and ask their top three concerns “for the community and agency.”

And Eden hinted in the document that city leaders believe the DOJ will find problems with APD.

“Conduct a review of the information submitted to the US DOJ and prepare a plan to implement findings, once received,” the document says.

In the interview, he said, “I think you can actually predict what they’re going to say based on what they asked for.”

That will apparently include a restructuring of the Internal Affairs division of APD.

Internal Affairs is among the primary areas of focus for federal investigators as they seek to determine whether APD has a pattern or practice of violating citizens’ civil rights — and whether the department’s internal controls are strong enough.

Eden will earn an annual salary of $158,000 at APD.

A long history in law enforcement

Eden, who starts at APD on Feb. 27, will be the third person to lead the department in the past six months.

He replaces Allen Banks, who has held the top post at APD as interim chief since August. Banks is leaving Albuquerque to become chief of the Round Rock Police Department outside Austin, Texas, at the end of this month.

Banks’ predecessor was Ray Schultz, who spent eight years at the helm. The second half of his tenure was marked by controversies that ultimately led to the DOJ investigation.

Berry chose Eden, 59, from a candidate pool of more than 40 names that included several other New Mexico law enforcement veterans and other from around the country.

The city announced Eden and two others as finalists — both from Texas — Thursday afternoon.

Eden has a long history in New Mexico, both in law enforcement and as an administrator. And he has experience with federal law enforcement, which may have been a primary selling point for him to lead APD as the department faces a pending U.S. Justice Department civil rights investigation.

Since January 2011, Eden has served in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration as secretary of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. Previously, he worked for eight years as U.S. Marshal for the district of New Mexico.

Eden began his career in law enforcement with New Mexico State Police in 1975. He worked his way up through the ranks and, by 1988, was overseeing the State Police training and recruiting division.

That experience also will be vital at APD: how the police department trains and recruits officers is another of the primary focus areas for the DOJ.

Eden left State Police for Northwestern University in 1988. He spent two years there as director of the school of police staff and command. Then he came back to New Mexico and spent four more years overseeing recruiting and training for State Police.

He spent the next five years, from 1997 to 2002, outside law enforcement — running the state Motor Vehicle Division under then-Gov. Gary Johnson.

President George W. Bush appointed Eden U.S. Marshal in 2002. He served until 2010.

As state DPS secretary, Eden oversaw the agency where he began his career: State Police. That department has been under scrutiny in recent months for a number of high-profile shootings by officers, including one near Taos that was caught on tape. The officer who fired at a fleeing minivan full of children and their mother was later fired.

Eden will take the reins at APD at a trying time. But he insists the department isn’t troubled.

“Not at all,” he said. “The vast majority of the men and women in the Albuquerque police department are outstanding officers.”

Restoring the chain of command

In his seven-point memo, Eden said he plans to evaluate the leadership and training standards at APD. He said that doesn’t necessarily indicate that a house-cleaning is forthcoming.

But in the interview, he provided some insight into what he expects of supervisors.

“I have really strong supervisors,” Eden said. “And the supervisors have to be the eyes and ears of the department. They have to be eyes and ears for the executive side of any law enforcement agency, and what I want to do is make sure they really understand what their responsibilities and job duties are.

“I really don’t want them stuck in an office, that’s not where they belong. Where they belong is out in the field, working side by side, supporting our officers. That’s so critical.”

Eden said he plans to hold accountable officers who break the rules. But he doesn’t think there are many of those at APD.

“I’ve never ruled with an iron hand, and I will not rule with an iron hand. That’s not my style,” he said. “My style is we’re going to have to work together as a team and make the department much better … No matter where you work, 90 percent of the people who work for you will never cause you a problem, and you have the small percentage about 10 percent that do cause you problems.”

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