On December 1, 2019 when former Republican Mayor Richard Berry was sworn into office, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) was staffed at 1,100 police officers. At the time, APD was the best trained, best funded, best equipped and best staffed in the history of the Department. The city’s overall crime rates were significantly lower than they are today.
For the full 8 years from December 1, 2019 to December 1, 2017, APD spiraled down wards as a result of poor management, budget cuts, police salary cuts and an investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) resulting in a finding of a “culture of aggression” within the department. The DOJ investigation resulted in a lawsuit and a consent decree mandating major reforms. When Mayor Keller took office on December 1, 2017, APD had plunged to approximately 870 full time police officers and the numbers went down even further to 830 at one time.
In 2017, Candidate Tim Keller campaigned to be elected mayor on the platform of implementing the DOJ mandated reforms, increasing the size of the Albuquerque Police Department, returning to community-based policing and promising to bring down skyrocketing crime rates. To that end, the Keller Administration began implementing an $88 million-dollar APD police expansion program increasing the number of sworn police officers from 898 positions filled to 1,200, or by 302 sworn police officers, over a four-year period. The massive investment was ordered by Mayor Tim Keller to full fill his 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.
In 2018, The Keller Administration and the APD Union were able to negotiate a 2-year contract. The Albuquerque Police Department’s very generous hourly pay increases and increased longevity pay incentive bonuses allowed APD to recruit experienced police officers from other New Mexico law enforcement agencies. APD was able to recruit sworn police officers as “lateral hires” from other law enforcement agencies in the State of New Mexico. In August, 2019 APD reported having 980 officers by growing the ranks with both new cadets and lateral hires from other departments, including APD retirees. The Police officers who left other agencies to join APD are some of the more experienced and highly trained officers at the agencies they are leaving.
APD has an approved general fund budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 of $188.9 million dollars, which represents an increase of 10.7% or $18.3 million above last year’s budget. It is anticipated that the 2020-2021 APD Budget which will be submitted April1, will be even bigger. According to the current approved budget, APD has 1,560 approved full-time positions with 1,040 sworn police budgeted positions and 520 budgeted civilian positions. You can review the entire APD approved budget here:
http://documents.cabq.gov/budget/fy-19-approved-budget.pdf (Page 209)
On August 1, 2019, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) issued what it entitled “Staffing Snapshot” providing a report on the number of sworn police officers APD has and where they have been assigned. According to the report, APD as of August 1, 2019 had a total of 972 sworn officers with 600 officers in the field patrolling 6 area commands and neighborhoods. The snapshot does not account for time delays from Human Resources and Payroll that have effective dates and retirements into the future.
As of January 1, 2020, according to pay stubs on file with the city, APD has 950 sworn police officers. The loss of 22 sworn police can be attributed to retirements and the Police Academy not keeping up with replacing officers. There is an APD Academy Class in session that should result in 35 to 40 more new officers added to the force in the Spring.
APD BEGINS RECRUITMENT CAMPAIGN
On January 7, 2020, it was reported that APD has instituted an aggressive recruitment campaign. In the previous years, APD had one person in charge of recruitment. APD recruitment has increased from 1 to 4 full-time recruiting officers. Further, others within the department work on efforts that has helped double cadet class sizes in the past year. According to APD Recruiting Director Dave Romo, APD has already made recruitment trips to Michigan, Florida and Texas and will be going to Los Angeles and Colorado.
The recruitment campaign includes a media campaign. APD unveiled a new recruitment video on social media using current officers to highlight what it means to be a police officer and the journey it takes to become one. The video is just one part of a public relations campaign for APD looking for hundreds of people to join the police force and start a law enforcement career. Police recruitment videos and advertising are a very common practice across the country and have been used by APD in the past.
In a recruitment video, an Albuquerque Police Officer appears and says:
“I was making a choice to change my life, and do something good with it and help others with similar situations like me … The day I decided to be a police officer was one of the single greatest days of my life. … If I can, you can!”
Director of APD Recruiting Dave Romo had this to say about the videos:
“We like to call it the heart behind the badge because that’s one thing that’s never recognized is that, you know, behind each badge there’s a human being. We are looking at ways that are not only out of the box but are also assisting the community to join our police department, get in our academy and be successful. … If it helps us recruit one officer, then it’s worthwhile. We’re looking to recruit not only basic officers but lateral police officers. We’ve hired probably over 75 lateral police officers in the last year. ”
According to Romo, the video campaign is designed to humanize officers with the hopes of more people into the department. APD’s numbers have now increased in the last two years from a low of 820 sworn police to 950 sworn officers.
OTHER INCENTIVES BEING OFFERED
In addition to the recruitment video, APD is offering new incentives to new recruits. Those incentives include:
Free child care for single parents during their time at APD’s training academy
Offering free gym memberships around town to help new recruits meet APD’s fitness requirements.
Assistance in paying off student loans
APD also plans to advertise more around the city, like on city buses. You can expect to see that later this year.
Mayor Keller’s goal is to have a total of 1,200 officers on APD’s force.
For news stories see:
LUCRATIVE PAY AND INCENTIVE PAY
A critical component to attracting more people to join APD is pay, including incentive pay to experienced officers to reduce retirements. In 2018, The Keller Administration and the APD Union negotiated and agreed to a 2-year contract.
Starting pay for an APD Police Officer immediately out of the APD academy is $29 an hour or $60,320 yearly. (40 hour work week X 52 weeks in a year = 2,080 hours worked in a year X $29 paid hourly = $60,320.)
Police officers with 4 to 14 years of experience are paid $30 an hour or $62,400 yearly. (40-hour work weeks in a year X 52 weeks in a year = 2,080 hours worked in a year X $30 paid hourly = $62,400.)
Senior Police Officers with 15 years or more experience are paid $31.50 an hour or $65,520 yearly. (40 hours work in a week X 52 weeks in year = 2,080 hours worked in a year X $31.50 = $65,520.)
The rate for APD Sergeants is $35 an hour, or $72,800. (40-hour work week X 52 weeks in a year = 2080 hours worked in a year X $35.0 paid hourly = $72,800.)
The rate for APD Lieutenants pay is $40.00 an hour or $83,200. (40 hour work week X 52 weeks in a year = 2080 hours worked in a year X $40.00 = $83,200.)
HIGHEST PAID CITY HALL EMPLOYEES ARE POLICE OFFICERS
APD Patrol Officers First Class are some of the highest paid city hall employees.
There are approximately 5,000 full time city hall employees. A review of the city’s 250 top earners in 2018 reveals that 140 are sworn police officers working for APD, mostly patrol officers first class and 40 are employed by Albuquerque Fire and Rescue. The 140 top wage city hall wage earners employed by the Albuquerque Police Department include patrol officers first class, sergeants, lieutenants, commanders the deputy chiefs, and the chief with annual pay ranging from $101,000 a year up to $192,937 a year.
(See City of Albuquerque website for full list of 250 top city wage earners).
Five (5) APD Senior Patrol Officers First Class are listed in the top 250 city wage earners for 2018 as being paid $166,692, $163,223, $160,692, $152,876 and $151,313 respectfully making them the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, and 11th highest paid employees at city hall. The amounts paid in excess of $100,000 a year to patrol officers first class can be attributed mostly to overtime pay and “time and a half” paid.
A major incentive for working for APD is the longevity pay, which can be described as a one lump bonus paid at the end of a pay year for number of years’ experience The approved longevity pay scale 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 in October, 2018 that officers from other departments are eligible to 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.
HEAVY WORK LOAD REFLECTED BY CALLS FOR SERVICE ARE OVERWHELMING
According to the 2019-2020 approved budget, in the last fiscal year APD responded to the following:
The number of calls for service was 580,238
Average response time for Priority 1 calls (immediate threat to life) was 12:26 minutes
The number of felony arrests was 9,592
The number of misdemeanor arrests was 18,442
The number of DWI arrests was 1,403
The number of domestic violence arrests was 2,356
You can review the performance measures of APD on page 211 of the budget here:
Click to access fy-19-approved-budget.pdf
DIFFCULTY IN FILLING APD RANKS
Despite all the incentives and pay increases, APD continues to struggle to recruit and grow the department to the desired level of 1,200 sworn as promised by Mayor Keller. Part of the problem includes the qualifications mandated in order to have a quality police officer and the steps required to become one.
MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS TO BE AN ALBQUERQUE POLICE OFFICER
All prospective Albuquerque Police Department officers must meet the following eligibility criteria:
1. Be a US citizen and at least 21 years old at the time of police academy graduation
2. Have a high school diploma or GED, and possess a valid driver’s license.
3. Applicants must have completed a minimum of 32 college credits unless the applicant has at least of two years of experience with and received an honorable discharge from the United States military.
4. Two years of continuous service as an Albuquerque police service aid or prisoner transport officer or five years of continuous service in a government or private sector position may also qualify for a waiver of the college credit requirement.
5. Immediate disqualification occurs if an applicant has a felony conviction, has been convicted of domestic violence, or has been convicted of a misdemeanor within three years of the application date.
STEPS TO BECOME AND ALBUQUERQUE POLICE OFFICER
Having the “minimum” qualifications to be an Albuquerque Police Officer only gives you an opportunity to test for the job.
The actual steps that must be taken to become an Albuquerque Police Officer are complicated and are as follows:
1. Meet the minimum qualifications for prospective officers and verify your eligibility by submitting an interest card to the Albuquerque Police Department.
2. Take the City Entrance Exam, which is similar to a civil service exam.
3. Submit a personal history statement.
4. Pass a physical abilities test.
5. Take the Nelson-Denny Reading Test (Note: this is a multiple-choice test measuring skill in vocabulary and reading.)
6. Submit the required personal documents, such as a credit report and photograph.
7. Complete a written psychological evaluation and background investigation.
8. Take a polygraph exam.
9. Complete a psychological interview.
10. Attend a panel interview with the Chief’s Selection Committee.
11. Complete a medical exam and drug screen.
12. Accept a conditional hire offer and attend the police academy.
13. Begin working as an Albuquerque patrol officer and [completing six months of patrol work with another sworn officer].
CONTRIBUTING FACTORS HAMPERING RECRUITMENT
Notwithstanding the recruitment efforts, lucrative pay and incentives offered, APD is still severely understaffed and struggling to implement expansive and expensive Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed to and mandated reforms. 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.
There are any number of reasons why so many sworn police retire as soon as they have been employed for the number of years required to be able to retire at an early age. Those reasons include:
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. An APD police officers heavy work load
4. The DOJ oversight requirements.
5. 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
6. 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.
OTHER FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO REDUCTION IN ACADEMY GRADUATES
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, 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. 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.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is great news that APD has added 116 new police officers to its ranks and respectable progress has been made in 24 months to rebuild the department. Mayor Keller’s goal to grow APD to leve1 of 1,200 sworn police as he promised is very commendable but in order to do that APD will have to hire and recruit a minimum of least 250 more police officers in order to go from the current number of 950 to 1,200. It’s likely in order to keep up with retirements at least 80 more will need to be hired for a total of 320.
It is highly doubtful APD will reach the goal of 1,200 sworn police by the end of Keller’s first term ending on January 1, 2022. The recruitment of new hires will be much easier said than done even with a media campaign and much harder for three reasons:
1. APD’s ability to attract officers from other New Mexico Law enforcement agencies has likely peaked with the other agencies also increasing their pay to compete with APD, and
2. Many recruited lateral hires are likely 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.
Keller will probably have to be elected to a second term in 2021 to be able to reach his goal. No doubt Keller will campaign for a second term 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. Richard Berry left office after serving two terms but left with an approval rating of 35% thereby ending his aspirations for governor.
What is very troubling is that all the increases in APD budget, personnel and new programs are not having any effect on bringing down the violent crime and murder rates. The city is no longer safe on many levels in virtually all quadrants of the city, despite Chief Michael Geier saying “Generally, it’s a safe city”. It is no longer an issue of not having the money, personnel or resources, but of a failed personnel resource management issue.
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 the 2 years left in Keller’s first term. People of Albuquerque are increasingly becoming restless as a result of the city’s high crime rates. After more than two years in office, voters are expecting results from Mayor Tim Keller and many feel he is not delivering on his promises.