On December 1, 2009, when Mayor Richard Berry was sworn in to office for his first term, APD was the best trained, best equipped, best funded department in its history and was fully staffed at 1,100 full time police officers.
Over a period of 8 years, APD went through a complete meltdown because of total mismanagement of the department by the previous Republican Administration with the hiring of political Republican operatives such as Darren White as Chief Public Safety Officer, retention of Chief Ray Schultz, who should have been fired for allowing the “culture of aggression” found by the DOJ, and the hiring of former APD Chief Gordon Eden who had absolutely no prior experience managing a municipal police department.
From December 1, 2009 to December 1, 2013 when Berry was sworn into office for a second term, APD had dropped from 1,100 sworn police officers to a low of 850 sworn police officers. In 2016, APD hit an all-time low of 821. From 2010 to 2017, the cities crime rates spiked reaching all time highs.
On June 17, 2019, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) announced that is has hired 116 police officers during the first full budget year of the Mayor Tim Keller Administration. A very large percentage of those officers are lateral hires from other departments.
It is projected that with the additions APD will reach 957 sworn officers by the end of July, 2019 and reach 981 by the end of the summer. For the 2019-20129 fiscal year that begins July 1, 2019 APD has been is budgeted for 1,040 full time sworn officers.
According to an APD news release, about two-thirds of the 116 new officers are already patrolling the streets and taking calls for service. The remainder are expected to be on duty by the end of the summer.
Mayor Tim Keller in a TV News interview had this to say:
“All of the hard work to hire the first 100 new officers as we promised is finally coming to fruition. … We met our first-year goal, and now, most of those officers are on the streets of Albuquerque and engaging in community-based policing. We have a lot more work to do as we work to hire another 300 officers over the next three years, but we are in a much better position to attack crime from all sides.”
Of the 957 police officers APD now has, 533 are patrolling the streets taking calls for service. The breakdown of assignments for the new 116 officers are as follows:
72 are being added to the six area commands, with each area command getting 7 to 17 new officers.
3 will serve in other commands that were not specified.
13 are completing on-the-job training now.
28 which are made up of two classes, one made up of cadets and the other of lateral transfers from other police departments will be finishing their APD Academy training by the end of the summer.
According to an APD Spokesman, the new officers on patrol will allow more experienced officers to fill out positions in the homicide unit, sex crimes unit, the newly created gun violence reduction unit and the problem response teams that were created to address the needs of specific neighborhoods and areas.
LATERAL HIRES MAKE UP LARGE PORTION OF NEW RECRUITS
APD’s goal is to spend $88 million dollars starting last year in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, over a four-year period, with 32 million dollars of recurring expenditures, to hire 322 sworn officers and expand APD from 878 sworn police officers to 1,200 officers. The massive investment is being done in order to full fill Mayor Tim Keller’s 2017 campaign promise to increase the size of APD and return to community-based policing as a means to reduce the city’s high crime rates. Last year’s 2018-2019 fiscal year budget provided for increasing APD funding from 1,000 sworn police to 1,040. This year’s 2019-2020 fiscal year budget has funding for 1,040 sworn police.
LUCRATIVE PAY INCREASES AND RETENTION AND INCENTIVE PAY
The APD recruiting plan to grow the size of the department includes the city increasing police officer hourly pay and increasing longevity incentive pay. In 2018, the Keller Administration and the APD Union negotiated and agreed to a 2-year contract. The approved contract provides that the pay rate for officers with zero to 4 years of experience went from $28 to $29 an hour. Starting pay for an APD officer right out of the APD academy is $29 an hour. Under the two-year contract, officers with 4 to 14 years of experience are paid $30 an hour. The new contract pays senior officers between $30 to $31.50 an hour. Officers with 15 years or more experience are paid $31.50 an hour. The rate for sergeants went from $32 to $35 an hour, and lieutenants pay went from $36.70 to $40.00 an hour.
APD’s hourly pay is significantly higher than what officers and deputies make in other law enforcement agencies in the state. Notwithstanding, Bernalillo County Sheriff Officers (BCSO) are paid about the same as APD and the Santa Fe Police Department (SFPD) has raised their pay scale to match APD.
The approved longevity pay scale effective the first full pay period following July 1, 2019 is as follows:
For 5 years of experience: $100 will be paid bi-weekly, or $2,600 yearly
For 6 years of experience: $125 will be paid bi-weekly, or $3,250 yearly
For 7 to 9 years of experience: $225 will be paid bi-weekly, or $5,800 yearly
For 10 to 12 years of experience: $300 will be paid bi-weekly, or $7,800 yearly
For 13 to 15 years o experience: $350 will be paid bi-weekly, or $9,100 yearly
For 16 to 17 years or more: $450 will be paid bi-weekly, or $11,700 yearly
For 18 or more years of experience: $600 will be paid bi-weekly, 15,600 yearly.
Specialty pay and longevity bonuses offered by APD can add $100 to $600 to an officer’s paycheck. Time employed by lateral at other law enforcement agencies qualify for the APD longevity bonuses. APD announced that officers from other departments can get credit for up to 10 years of experience they have had with other law enforcement agencies which means $3,900 longevity pay after working for APD for only 1 year. In the past, lateral hires were given credit for only half of their previous work experience. That work experience directly increases an officer’s pay in the form of yearly incentive retention bonuses.
GROWING APD WITH LATERAL HIRES AND RETIREES
Deputy Police Chief Harold Medina credited the recent boost of 116 officers to the Keller Administration’s focus on recruiting officers from other departments around the state. It was estimated by Medina that of the 116 new officers, 70 were lateral hires. According to Deputy Chief Medina, the majority of the officers hired from other agencies were from the Santa Fe Police Department,the Rio Rancho Police Department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and he stated:
“We’re paying more than anyone else in the state, in some cases substantially [more] … And it’s really led to individuals wanting to come over to the department.”
Notwithstanding Medina’s inability to provide many details on lateral hires, in November of 2018, it was reported by the media APD has recruited 59 sworn police officers as “lateral hires” from other law enforcement agencies in the State of New Mexico. In October, APD graduated a lateral academy with 29 officers. Another lateral academy with 30 officers graduated in December, 2018.
The 59 “lateral hires” from other law enforcement agencies included:
11 from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office
11 from the Santa Fe Police Department
8 from the Rio Rancho Police Department
2 from the Farmington Police Department
2 from the Isleta Pueblo Police Department
2 from the Valencia County Sheriff’s Department
11 from other law enforcement agencies, including other Sheriff Departments, the Attorney General’s Office and the NM Corrections Department.
10 previously retired APD officers have been recruited to returned to work.
2 retirees from other departments have recruited to returned to work.
RECRUITING AND TRAINING A NEW GENERATION OF YOUNGER POLICE OFFICERS WILL BE DIFFICULT AT BEST
Recruiting a younger, new generation of sworn police officers and growing the size of the police department at this point will be difficult for any number of reasons including:
1. APD’s poor and negative national reputation.
2. 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.
3. The increased dangers of being a police officer in a violent city such as Albuquerque.
4. The DOJ oversight requirements.
APD consistently has thousands of applicants that apply to the police academy every year. 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, failing the polygraph tests, lying on the on the applications or failing a credit check. 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 and drop out.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Mayor Keller’s proclamation that he wants to hire another 300 officers over the next three years is very commendable, but he will probably have to be elected to a second term in 2021 to be able do that, saying he needs to finish the work he has started. Another term as mayor is never guaranteed, as was the case with Harry Kinney, David Rusk, Ken Schultz, Jim Baca and even Martin Chavez. Louis Saavedra left office after one term and Richard Berry left office after serving two terms but left with an approval ratting of 35% thereby ending his aspirations for higher office. APD is still under a DOJ consent decree, violent crime continues to be at unacceptable levels and political fortunes can change dramatically and swiftly over 2 years.
It is great news that APD has added 116 new police officers to its ranks and respectable progress has been made in 18 months to rebuild the department. APD’S needs to recruit another 220 police officers to get the department to a force of 1,200 which looks doable. That number of new hires will be much easier said than done and much harder for three reasons:
1. APD’s ability to attract officers from other New Mexico Law enforcement agencies probably has peaked with the other agencies also increasing their pay to compete with APD, and
2. Many recruited lateral hires may also be looking to retire sooner rather than later, coming to the City to increase their high three salary to retire with a more lucrative pension and collect the longevity pay bonuses, and
3. From a personnel management standpoint, it is highly likely that many APD police officers who are eligible for retirement now have decided to stay on and continue for a few more years with APD because of the significant increases in hourly pay and longevity pay and increasing their retirement benefits but still plan on retiring in three years once they get their high 3 years of pay.
The increases in hourly pay and longevity pay translates into being able to “grow the department” faster because of the reduced need to recruit in order replace retirees. Each year, APD has as many as 30 to 50 police officers who are eligible to retire and must be replaced once they do retire which drags down APD’s overall full-time personnel numbers.
APD’s new pay structure and increased longevity pay incentive bonuses are also allowing APD to recruit experienced police officers from other New Mexico law enforcement agencies. The law enforcement agencies APD recruited from have raised serious concerns about losing their officers to Albuquerque to the point many have also raised their pay structure to retain their officers. Police officers who are leaving other agencies to join APD are some of the more experienced and highly trained officers at the agencies they are leaving.
Keller and APD hiring so many police officers from other agencies should come as absolutely no surprise. On January 27, 2017, then New Mexico State Auditor and Albuquerque Mayor candidate Tim Keller was interviewed by the on line and now defunct Albuquerque Free Press, Keller told the Albuquerque Free Press that the solution to APD’s shortage of sworn officers is that “you poach” them from other law enforcement agencies.
The term “poaching” although somewhat insulting as an illegal hunting term when referring to law enforcement recruitment, is an accurate description of what Keller and APD Chief Geier have done with APD recruiting. The problem with “poaching” is that it increases the risk of hiring problem officers from other agencies as lateral transfers, which is what caused in part APDs problems in the first place with the Department of Justice. It also resulted in a major lawsuit and a large payout when the plaintiff’s attorney established that an inordinate number of police shootings came from a single APD class.
Keller and Geier and the command staff need to realize that APD needs to recruit a new generation of young, committed police officers to start their law enforcement careers with the city who are fully trained in constitutional policing practices. Keller and Geier are also hiring and returning to work APD retirees, with Geier himself being a retired APD Commander under Chief Ray Schultz. The danger with returning APD retired police officers is that APD may be hiring back cops that created, contributed or who did not stop the culture of aggression found by the DOJ.
APD needs to curb its efforts on hiring more lateral hires and concentrate on hiring younger new generation of police officer to begin their law enforcement career and to continue rebuilding APD from the ground up.