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New Santa Fe police cars get stalled in red tape

December 18, 2018

At least 14 brand new vehicles purchased by the Santa Fe Police Department nearly a year ago have been sitting in a parking lot collecting dust instead of criminals since the city got the keys.

The reason the vehicles have gone unused for that long stunned — and angered — members of the City Council’s Finance Committee on Monday.

There’s nothing wrong with the engines, councilors were told. The cars work perfectly fine.

But the same can’t be said for the city’s bureaucracy.

It turns out that a city employee in charge of installing police radios and other equipment in the vehicles retired and two other workers in the city’s radio shop were assigned other duties.

“We have a breakdown and a failure,” City Councilor Signe Lindell said. “To have one person retire and have an entire program kind of come to a screeching halt is astounding to me.”

The revelation came as police Chief Andrew Padilla asked the committee to approve a $70,400 contract with MHQ of New Mexico, a division of Don Chalmers Ford in Albuquerque, to install radios and other equipment.

When the police department submitted the initial request to buy a fleet of new vehicles, Padilla wrote that a majority of the equipment would be installed by the city’s radio shop, “saving the city of Santa Fe any additional costs incurred from a third-party installation.”

“However, after speaking with Mr. Lawrence Worstell from the city’s [Information Technology and Telecommunications Department], he informed the police department that a recent retirement in the city’s radio shop hadn’t been filled and [was] staffed by only two employees who were being redirected to focus solely on radio service for the city,” city documents state. “This change greatly impacted the rotation of police vehicles — from weeks to months.”

Lindell questioned why the police department waited so long to bring the issue to light.

“Those cars are a year old now,” she said. “They’ve already depreciated significantly. How is it that we never heard about this?”

Padilla said his department works with other departments, “doing the best that we can.”

Lindell wasn’t satisfied with his answer.

“I wish the city manager were here,” she said, referring to Erik Litzenberg. “I’m a little overwhelmed by this.”

City Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta, who chairs the Finance Committee, asked for a memo from the ITT Department to “clarify what happened” and how to avoid a repeat of the situation in the future.

When Abeyta asked his colleagues whether they wanted to postpone the chief’s request until they received an explanation, Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth said she didn’t want to wait any longer.

“It’s already been held up,” she said. “We need to get these vehicles in operation.”

Abeyta agreed.

“I was inclined to hold it up, but you’re right,” he said. “We’re just adding to the problem.”

Lindell said the matter “definitely” requires Litzenberg’s attention.

“I just don’t know how this could’ve happened,” she said, “and I would like for it to never happen again.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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