It never ceases to amaze me when the Mayor, the City Council, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA) ignore the Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree mandated reforms and argue that what is needed to solve APD problems are more sworn police officers.
Most if not all candidates for Mayor also say little about the DOJ consent decree reforms and say to improve APD they will terminate APD Chief Gordon Eden and hire more police officers with a few of the candidates for Mayor saying we need 1,200 sworn police.
The recent APOA police union reaction to the Mayor Berry’s 2017-2018 proposed budget was to complain that the Mayor’s budget does not have any money for police raises, that APD officer’s pay is not competitive with other departments in the region and that there are not enough cops patrolling our streets, despite a $7 million increase in the APD budget.
(See April 1, 2017 Albuquerque Journal article “Police union: Budget ignores lack of cops”, Metro & NM section, page C-1 and https://www.abqjournal.com/980486/police-union-budget-ignores-lack-of-cops.html).
EXCESSIVE OVERTIME PROOF OF SEVERE UNDER STAFFING
APD police officers in general are some of the best paid police in the country with a very generous retirement program where a police officer can retire after 25 years of service and earn 90% of their “high three” salary for the rest of their lives.
The average and normal yearly salary paid APD Police Officers First Class after about one year on the job is $56,000 a year.
However, during the last 7 years, the Albuquerque Police Department has consistently gone over its overtime budget by millions to the detriment of other city departments and other city employees.
A total of 124 of the 250 top wage earners at city hall are employed by the Albuquerque Police Department and include patrol officers, sergeants, lieutenants, commanders and deputy chiefs, assistant chief and the chief with annual pay ranging from $95,000 a year up to $166,699 a year. (See City of Albuquerque web site for full list of 250 top city wage earners).
Five (5) APD Patrol Officers First Class are listed in the top 250 city wage workers as being paid $146,971, $145,180, $140,243, $137,817 and $125,061 respectfully making them the 6th, the 7th, the 10th, the 12th and the 20th highest paid employees at city hall.
There are listed 66 Patrol Officers First Class in the list of the top 250 wage earners at city hall earning more than $95,000 a year and as much as $146,000 a year.
Combined, there are a total of 91 APD sworn police officers and sergeants who are named in the top 250 wage earners and city hall.
The fact that any APD Patrolman First Class are paid as much as between $95,000 to $146,000, or two to three times their normal salary, in any given year should be very concerning because it is a red flag for trouble.
Excessive overtime reflects at the very least a severe lack of personnel.
The Mayor’s proposed 2017-2018 budget contains funding for 1,000 sworn officers.
Albuquerque City Councilor Ken Sanchez says the proposed budget should have recommended funding for 1,100. (See https://www.abqjournal.com/980486/police-union-budget-ignores-lack-of-cops.html )
Councilor Sanchez forgets the fact that APD has averaged only 850 sworn police officers for the last three consecutive years.
APD SEVERELY UNDERSTAFFED BECAUSE OF FAILED MANAGEMENT POLICIES
Seven years ago, APD had 1,100 sworn police officers and an emphasis was placed on community based policing.
Seven years ago when Berry became Mayor, APD employed more police officers in it history and was the best trained, best equipped and the best funded department in its history.
In 2010, the first year Mayor Berry was in office, Berry unilaterally refused to pay negotiated 5% salary increases to police negotiated in good faith, abolished the police car take home policy and abolished incentive pay bonuses to experienced officers that encouraged delaying retirement.
APD moral plummeted and the exodus of experienced officers began because of Berry Administration policies and mismanagement of APD.
Today, APD cannot recruit and hire enough officers to keep the department at the 1,000 level of sworn officers let alone 1,100 suggested by City Councilor Ken Sanchez and the 1,200 suggested by a few of the candidates for Mayor.
APD is severely understaffed and struggling to implement expansive and expensive Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed to and mandated reforms.
The number of APD sworn officers has fallen from 1,100 officers to 835 over the past seven years in large part because of extensive retirements, extreme low morale resulting in experienced officers deciding to retire sooner than later, changes in the Public Employee Retirement Association benefits, failed APD management, heavy workloads and intense scrutiny by the Department of Justice resulting in the DOJ consent decree.
Although APD has 835 sworn police officers, only 436 are assigned to the field services, less those on annual leave or sick leave, spread out over three shifts, and taking 69,000 911 priority one calls not to mention priority 2 and 3 calls for service.
Recruiting a younger, new generation of sworn police officers and growing the size of the police department has become very difficult and unachievable for any number of reasons.
APD’s poor and negative national reputation and Albuquerque’s high violent crime rates are not conducive to attracting people who want to begin a long term career in law enforcement in Albuquerque.
The DOJ oversight requirements and the increased dangers in being a police officer in a violent city such as Albuquerque has had an impact on recruitment.
APD consistently has thousands of applicants that apply to the police academy every year as evidenced by the number of “interest cards” submitted which is the first step to applying with APD.
The overwhelming number of police academy applicants fail to get into the academy for any number of reasons including failing to meet minimum education and entry qualifications, unable to pass criminal background checks, unable to make it through psychological background analysis or they fail polygraph tests or perhaps even lie on their applications.
Once in the police academy, many cadets are unable to meet minimum physical requirements or unable to handle the training and academic requirements to graduate from the academy.
The APD Police Academy is unable to keep up with retirement losses and for a number of years graduating classes have averaged 35 to 40 a class, well below the number to keep up with yearly retirements.
The City needs 1,200 sworn police officers to effectively return to community based policing that will reduce crime, but to accomplish that will take time, major changes in management and a major financial investment.
LARGE JUDGMENTS AND HIGH CRIME RATES ARE RESULT OF A POORLY MANAGED APD
From 2010 to 2016 the City has paid out which has paid out $63.3 million to settle law enforcement civil rights cases. (See Albuquerque Journal https://www.abqjournal.com/979783/mayor-berrys-final-budget-reflects-lean-times.html?fb_action_ids=1526888497445496&fb_action_types=og.likes)
I can only imagine how much good could have been done with over $63 million dollars.
Since 2010, APD officers have shot over 41 people in police misconduct cases and excessive use of force cases.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported that in 2015 violent crime and property crime in Albuquerque increased in by 9.2% and 11.5%, respectively.
In 2015, murders in Albuquerque spiked by 53%.
Since 2010, Albuquerque’s violent and property crime rates have dramatically increased.
According to the Bernalillo County District Attorneys Office, from 2009 to 2015, Albuquerque’s violent crime rate jumped 21.5% and the city is fifth-most violent city in the country on a per capita basis while the nation’s violent crime rated dropped by 13.7%. (See June 23, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, Justice council challenges DA’s criticism of court rules.)
The Federal Monitor found that “APD’s system for overseeing and holding officers accountable for the use of force has failed and the serious deficiencies revealed point to a deeply-rooted systemic problem”.
The Federal Monitor found that the “deficiencies, in part, indicate a culture of low accountability is at work within APD, particularly in chain-of-command reviews.”
More must be done to aggressively implement the DOJ reforms, solve the staffing shortages and address APD’s leadership crisis.
Dramatic, sweeping changes and a new approach to APD management is in order.
A PROPOSED SOLUTION
The City Council by ordinance can create a Department of Public Safety with an appointed civilian Police Commissioner.
The Police Commissioner would be appointed by the Mayor with advice and consent of the City Council.
The Chief of Police would be appointed by the Police Commissioner but serve at the pleasure of the Mayor with advice and consent of the City Council.
The Police Commissioner would assume direct civilian oversight, management and control of APD.
A national search for a Police Commissioner and Chief of Police needs to be conducted.
A Police Commissioner and Chief with extensive and proven leadership in managing a municipal police department must be hired, not political operatives.
The civilian Police Commissioner would assume primary responsibility for implementation of all the DOJ-mandated reforms and only be removed for cause by the Mayor.
The Police Commissioner would completely overhaul and restructure APD, appoint new chiefs, commanders, lieutenants, academy director and a 911 manager and each would report directly to the Chief of Police, with the Police Commissioner in the Chain of Command as the Commissioner determines to be necessary and appropriate to carry out his or her duties.
The civilian Police Commissioner would be responsible for preparing budgets, personnel management and enforcement of personnel policies and procedures and imposing personnel disciplinary action.
The Chief of Police would be responsible for day-to-day operations of APD, public safety initiatives and management of sworn staff and report directly to the civilian Police Commissioner.
The Public Safety Department would consist of four civilian staffed divisions and managed by the Police Commissioner:
1. Personnel and training, for recruiting, hiring, internal affairs investigations and police academy;
2. Budget and finance;
3. Information technology support and crime lab; and
4. 911 emergency operations center with a civilian manager.
“Deadly use of force” cases would continue to be investigated by the Critical Incident Review Team and the final reports with finding and recommendations submitted to the Police Commissioner.
The APD Internal Affairs Unit would be abolished.
The investigation of police misconduct cases including excessive use of force cases not resulting in death or nor serious bodily harm would be done by “civilian” personnel investigators.
The function and responsibility for investigating police misconduct cases and violations of personnel policy and procedures by police would be assumed by the Office of Independent Council in conjunction with the City Human Resources Department and the Office of Internal Audit where necessary.
The Office of Independent Council would make findings and recommendations to the Police Commissioner for implementation and imposition of disciplinary action.
The city needs to fund and implement a non-negotiated major hourly rate increase for entry level sworn officers, excluding management, to improve recruitment, retention and morale.
Sign on bonuses, tuition debt payoff and mortgage down payment bonuses need to be offered to new recruits.
Yearly experienced officer retention bonuses must be made permanent.
APD needs to “triple down” on recruitment and dramatically increase the size and number of police academy classes per year.
If necessary, the City Council needs to consider a public safety tax to pay for APD’s staffing expansion, pay incentive programs, needed training programs, DOJ-mandated reforms, equipment acquisitions and 911 emergency operations, staffing and equipment.
Until aggressive action is taken with APD and the Department of Justice mandated and agreed to reforms, APD will continue to spin out of control, violent crime will continue to rise and Albuquerque will continue to see dramatic spikes in crime.