ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Days after taking office, Bernalillo County’s new Sheriff John Allen is outlining his administration’s priorities. Allen and his new executive staff held a news conference Friday morning, discussing a myriad of topics including pausing the department’s involvement in a reality TV show to how the sheriff is considering dealing with issues surrounding homelessness.
A Democrat, Allen replaces fellow Democrat Sheriff Manny Gonzales III as the Albuquerque area’s top-elected lawman. In a roughly 45-minute discussion Friday, Allen started by addressing one of his first decisions in office: pausing BCSO’s role in “On Patrol: Live,” a live cable television show focused on following law enforcement officers from call to call.
“I want to focus on crime, we’re short on the people power we have,” Allen said. “I don’t want to be scheduling On Patrol: Live, I know people think that’s access to the department, and some people thing that’s true transparency to the department, I’ll agree and disagree.”
Allen says the department currently has around 23 vacant deputy positions. While the department’s role in the show has been paused for now, Allen says it doesn’t mean BCSO won’t ever reappear as a part of On Patrol: Live. Allen says he expects to revisit participation in the show in April.
“I want to ask the deputies that are actually on the show, and how it affected their work life,” Allen said. “I want to be able to speak with everybody.”
Albuquerque Police Relationship
Under prior Sheriff Manny Gonzales III, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office’s relationship with Albuquerque Police was notably strained. Mayor Tim Keller faced Sheriff Manny Gonzales in a contentious 2021 mayoral election. And in 2020, Gonzales’ BCSO made several federal partnerships with the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice, while Mayor Keller rebuked some of the Trump Administration’s manuevers.
Asked about his plans for a relationship with APD, Allen said he envisions “huge changes.” One of those includes communication, Allen says.
“I had lunch with the Chief, Harold Medina yesterday and the Mayor, and we discussed [memorandums of understanding], things that we can work on together,” Allen said. “We are all victims of the crime here and people want a response from law enforcement no matter what color uniform it is. They want it to be efficient, and professional, and they want results.”
Allen noted that BCSO is helping investigate several shootings that recently occurred at the homes and offices of five different elected officials in the Albuquerque area. “We’re doing a lot of things behind the scenes because if this person is doing this to an elected official, I can’t imagine what this person has done in the past and who it is, or if it’s even a group of people or a network,” Allen said.
BCSO’s Helicopter Program
Allen is also tasked with figuring out the next steps for BCSO’s helicopter program following a fatal crash over the summer. On July 16, BCSO’s Metro 2 helicopter crashed near Las Vegas, New Mexico after assisting in fighting a wildfire.
The crash killed Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lieutenant Fred Beers, and Deputy Michael Levison from BCSO. Bernalillo County Fire Rescue’s Rescue Specialist Matthew King also died in the crash.
In September 2022, then-Sheriff Manny Gonzales said it might take years for a similar helicopter program to get going again. In November, Gonzales announced the re-launch of “Metro 1,” BCSO’s other helicopter. At the time, the Sheriff anticipated Metro 1 flying by April 2023.
At Friday’s news conference, Allen’s undersheriff Johann Jareno said the helicopter component of the county’s “Metro Air Support Unit” (MASU) has been suspended. While the county says it will continue to move forward with helicopter training and the closely tied mountain rescue and rope rescue components of MASU, helicopter operations are indefinitely suspended.
Allen emphasized waiting for more details of NTSB’s investigation into why the crash happened. As NTSB investigations can sometimes take years to complete, Allen clarified that he isn’t waiting for the entirety of the investigation to finish before a potential relaunch of the unit.
“We want to get closer to [the NTSB] investigation being completed,” Allen said. “I don’t want to have the air unit go back up and something that is serious enough for us to ground it again.”
Emphasizing partnership with Albuquerque Police, which also operates a helicopter, Allen said he’s interested in sharing services with APD. That could include a hanger, mechanics, or air time, Allen said.
“One of my main concerns also is should it be more patrol based? We’re seeing drag racing and everything else going on, rescue is very important but do we need to balance that a like bit?” Allen said. “Does it need to be 60-40, 70-30, that’s why I said we’re doing a review of the policies and procedures to see which direction we’re going.”
Warrants, Party Patrol, Homelessness & Diversity
Allen also shared Friday his opinion on a list of issues affecting deputies, including warrant round-ups, how to deal with homelessness, and his thoughts on the potential of bringing back a “party patrol.” On warrants, Allen acknowledged the sheer volume of outstanding warrants.
At a subsequent news conference Friday afternoon, Allen endorsed the City of Albuquerque’s legislative request for $10-million to help fund a metro-area warrant taskforce. There are more than 5,000 outstanding felony warrants in Bernalillo County.
“You have to continue to serve warrants and get them out of the system,” Allen said. “I really believe we have to work together because there are so many, you can’t just do one warrant roundup on a Friday afternoon and then you don’t see another one for two months down the road.”
On the topic of a “party patrol” unit, Allen says he doesn’t believe the department currently has enough staff to begin the practice. The topic of officers seeking out parties for enforcement purposes has reemerged in recent years with a rise of shootings resulting in the deaths of teenagers.
“Once we start getting our numbers up, I think that’s something that can possible come to fruition,” Allen said. “But I also understand all the controversy that came along with it, civil rights violations, things of that nature. How do we not relive the past, correct it, and make a better program?”
Discussing homelessness, Allen acknowledged the challenge the city is facing balancing the needs of the unhoused versus those who choose to commit crime.
“Homelessness is not a crime,” Allen said. “At the same time, what life aspect and what problems are those persons going through? And I talk about also behavioral health, at the same time, people self-medicating with narcotics. That’s something we can’t have, that is a gateway to the violent crime problems we’re seeing.”
Allen also acknowledged the challenge facing property owners in dealing with homelessness. “We have business roundtables, and I want their ideas and their problems, I know there’s a lot.”
Allen defeated Republican Paul Pacheco in the November general election with roughly 54% of the vote. Allen is the first African American sheriff in Bernalillo County’s history. Within his executive staff, Allen has appointed Undersheriff Johann Jareno, the first immigrant to serve as undersheriff. Allen also appointed Hollie Anderson to the role of Major. She is the highest ranking female to serve in the department, according to Allen’s administration.
“We are a multicultural community, and that needs to be reflected from every level of government, it needs to be reflected in our department,” said Undersheriff Jareno. “It’s for the community to feel they have a representative, that they are represented in our department.”