After multiple reports of problems at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy (LEA) and a bill from the legislative session that will reorganize the Law Enforcement Academy Board (LEAB), Kelly Alzaharna has been let go from her role as director at the agency.
The Paper. learned of her departure after cadets attending a training class at the LEA reported to their employer that Alzaharna had been removed from the director’s position and Department of Public Safety (DPS) Deputy Director Benjamin Baker would take charge in the interim.
Cadets and instructors were told that there would be no interruption in training and that the transition would be seamless.
An unidentified person at the LEA said via phone that Alzaharna was out of the office Friday, but gave no further information.
Alzaharna’s tenure at the LEA was not without problems. In January, The Paper. reported that, despite two formal requests from Attorney General Hector Balderas, Alzaharna failed to complete an audit of officer training compliance for over two years. Balderas currently serves as the head of the LEAB and oversees Alzaharna.
“Alzaharna has been directed to complete the audit by the Chair on behalf of the board, and multiple requests have been made to the Director about the audit at subsequent LEAB meetings, and I have also expressed concern to DPS leadership,” Balderas told The Paper. in January.
Multiple requests to DPS Spokesperson Herman Lovato about Alzaharna’s departure went unanswered.
New Mexico Attorney General’s Office Director of Communications Jerri Mares confirmed Alzaharna was no longer with the LEA. “We were notified that DPS Deputy Cabinet Secretary Benjamin Baker is appointed as the acting LEA Director in response to Kelly Alzaharna’s departure,” Mares said.
The change in leadership comes on the heels of this year’s legislative session, which resulted in a change to policing oversight splitting the Law Enforcement Academy Board (LEAB) into two parts, one to oversee training and another to oversee officer licensing and misconduct. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the crime bill into law on March 9.
The licensing board will also be responsible for determining the outcome of any officer misconduct allegations, another problem at the LEAB that was previously reported by The Paper. These changes will go into effect on July 1.
Alzaharna, as LEA director, was pivotal in the outcome of multiple law enforcement misconduct cases, as her summaries of misconduct allegations and recommended actions were often accepted and acted upon by the LEAB.
“I think that they completely ignored [the misconduct allegations],” Portales Police Chief Chris Williams previously told The Paper. about one case in particular. “Because it’s one of those things where they don’t give us clear direction. When I sent it, they initially lost everything, I had to resend it all to them. And then they never talked to us.”
A review of outcomes by The Paper. found multiple officers previously recommended for discipline had later shot people to death while working at other departments.
It’s unknown where the state will find a new director for the LEA, or if it will be able to fill any of the multiple instructor vacancies at the academy before the new changes go into effect.