BELEN — Two years after an audit revealed critical issues within the Belen Police Department, a new investigation has discovered the BPD has made a near-complete turnaround.
The first audit in May 2019 was conducted when Victor Rodriguez was chief of police. The second audit was requested this past April by Belen City Manager Andrew Salas, who wanted to know the progress of the recommendations made in the initial audit.
During a recent council meeting, Fred Radsevich, owner of FKR Consulting and who retired from a career in law enforcement in 2016, told the Belen City Council he conducted both operational audits.
Radsevich told the governing body he had spent several days at the BPD, interviewing employees and going through operational records and processes.
Initial audit report
According to the 2019 audit report, Radsevich found the officer’s training files for 2018-19 were incomplete. He also noted the department needed a complete inventory of its evidence room, and a comprehensive audit must be completed.
Radsevich recommended the department consider hiring a full-time evidence custodian, who would work with the district attorney’s office to determine what evidence was needed and what could be destroyed.
The 2019 audit also recommended the department maintain an inventory of all vehicles, firearms, non-lethal weapons, computers and other equipment.
At the time, Radsevich recommended the BPD officers’ schedules should be based on calls for service and the needs of the community. He also said the department should generate monthly statistical reports so the command staff could make decisions regarding manpower allocation and calls for service.
Radsevich also advised the department review training records for all officers.
“The biggest item in 2019 was the evidence room,” Radsevich told the council. “It was just a nightmare. There were no destruction orders in a year, and it was overflowing.”
Current audit report
During his recent presentation to the city council, Radsevich said when he was first contacted by Salas to perform a second audit, he wasn’t sure he wanted to return, but when he did, he was pleasantly surprised.
“They’ve come a long way,” Radsevich said of the Belen Police Department, which is now under the leadership of Chief James Harris, who was appointed to the position in January 2020.
According to Radsevich, the biggest improvement at the BPD was the evidence room. He credited the department for hiring a full-time evidence room technician, who, he says, organized thousands of items in evidence, including drugs, guns and money.
“They’ve done a tremendous job so far,” he said. “Everything is organized, and when I randomly selected 10 cases, (the evidence technician) was able to find those in a matter of seconds.”
Radsevich said while the BPD’s evidence room has come a long way, it will still be a long, drawn-out process because there is years of evidence in its possession, and the DA’s office has to ask for orders for destruction.
The new audit also found that all BPD officers met the required training, and the forms were submitted two months prior to the deadline. The report also found the field training documents for new officers were up to date, and the chief reviews and signs off on them before the officer is released from training.
“Arms training was a another big issue,” Radsevich said of the 2019 audit. “But I found that all officers have received their training and qualifications. The only problem is that the policy says officers need two trainings a year, but because of COVID and the cost of ammunition, it was difficult, but they met the state qualifications.”
Radsevich also said the department did provide him with a completed inventory of all vehicles, firearms and Tasers, as well as a form that lists the individual officer’s information and all the equipment the officer has been assigned. He did say, however, a physical inventory should be conducted annually.
The audit report from this year also showed the department has completed crime statistics for both 2018-19 and 2019-20.
“In conclusion, I think they’ve done an amazing job,” Radsevich said. “So far, all the critical areas were addressed, and I was thoroughly impressed.”
After Radsevich’s presentation to the council, only one member of the governing body — Robert Noblin — commented on the audit results.
“Comparing this audit with the first one was a complete 180,” Noblin said. “It’s a complete turnaround. Thanks to the officers and the chief. This is something to really be proud of.”
“I am very proud of the hard work everyone in the department has done to prepare for this audit,” said Harris. “I could not be any happier for the outcome.
“I have an excellent group of employees and an amazing command staff. If it wasn’t for their dedication to this city and this department, we couldn’t have come this far in this short amount of time.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.