Over the last 20 years, the Albuquerque Police Departments ( APD) attrition rate has been a consistently 60 police officers a year. That includes terminations, transfers and police officers who have decided they do not want to be a police officer anymore. That began to changed dramatically in 2020. For all of 2020, APD had 81 departures. In 2021, halfway through the year, APD had 82 departures. On September 21, it was reported that the current number of APD sworn officers stands at approximately 906 and that APD since January has lost 122 sworn police.
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, attend and successfully complete the 26 weeks of the police academy.
13. Begin working as an Albuquerque patrol officer and [completing six months of patrol work with another sworn officer].
Recruitment of new officers has been difficult to the point that on August 2, APD began offering sign on bonuses worth thousands of dollars. According to the August 2 KOAT TV news report, the bonuses are:
$15,000 for lateral police officers (experienced officers transferring from other departments)
$5,000 for cadets or new recruits
$1,500 for police service aides
The $15,000 bonuses announced in August lateral officers is broken down into 3 separate payments. Lateral hired officers are paid $5,000 when they’re hired, $5,000 when they complete their fourth week in the academy, and the third $5,000 payment is made after a one-year probationary period.
DOUBLING DOWN ON BONUSES FOR NEW RECRUITS
Despite the implementation of hiring bonuses, APD has continued to have trouble recruiting a new, younger generation of police officer. On October 27, APD announced that it is doubling the signing bonuses for new police cadets from $5,000 to $10,000. The increase in bonuses are another attempt to grow the size of the police force that struggles to stay fully staffed, especially in the last two years. It was also announced that emergency dispatchers and telecommunication operators will get $1,500 signing bonuses.
According to police spokeswoman Rebecca Atkins, APD has 945 sworn officers as of October 27, but confidential sources within APD have said the number is actually as few as 900 with more retirements and resignations still being processed as officers take earned time off. Yet another source within APD says as many as 100 more sworn police will be leaving or retiring by January 1, 2022.
The link to quoted source material is here:
APD PAY RATES
The sign on bonuses are in addition to the base pay sworn police are paid once hired. APD’s hourly and total yearly base pay is summarized as follows:
Starting pay for an APD Police Officer immediately out of the APD academy is $29 an hour or $60,320 yearly.
Police officers with 4 to 14 years of experience are paid $30 an hour or $62,400 yearly.
Senior Police Officers with 15 years or more experience have a base pay rate of $31.50 an hour or $65,520 yearly.
The hourly base pay rate for APD Sergeants is $35 an hour, or $72,800 yearly.
The hourly base pay rate for APD Lieutenants is $40.00 an hour or $83,200.
LONGEVITY PAY BONUSES
In addition to their hourly and yearly pay, APD police officers are paid longevity bonus pay added to their pay at the end of the year. Following are the longevity pay rates:
For 5 years of experience: $100 are paid bi-weekly, or $2,600 yearly
For 6 years of experience: $125 are paid bi-weekly, or $3,250 yearly
For 7 to 9 years of experience: $225 are paid bi-weekly, or $5,800 yearly
For 10 to 12 years of experience: $300 are paid bi-weekly, or $7,800 yearly
For 13 to 15 years o experience: $350 are paid bi-weekly, or $9,100 yearly
For 16 to 17 years or more: $450 are paid bi-weekly, or $11,700 yearly
For 18 or more years of experience: $600 are paid bi-weekly, 15,600 yearly
In addition to sign on bonuses, hourly pay and longevity pay, APD sworn police can be paid overtime and paid time and a half. APD overtime has been a major source of controversy for a number of years resulting in 7 audits performed on APD overtime practices since 2014.
During the last 10 years, the Albuquerque Police Department has consistently gone over its overtime budgets by millions. In fiscal year 2016, APD was funded for $9 million for over time but APD actually spent $13 million. A March, 2017 city internal audit of APD’s overtime spending found police officers “gaming the system” that allows them to accumulate excessive overtime at the expense of other city departments. A city internal audit report released in March, 2017 revealed that the Albuquerque Police Department spent over $3.9 million over its $9 million “overtime” budget.
At the beginning of each calendar year, City Hall releases the top 250 wage earners for the previous year. The list of 250 top city hall wages earners is what is paid for the full calendar year of January 1, to December 31 of any given year. The 2019 and the 2020 city hall 250 highest paid wage earnings shows the extent of excessive overtime paid to APD sworn police. For both the years of 2019 and 2020, 160 of 250 top paid city hall employees were police who were paid between $107,885.47 to $199,666.40.
In 2019, there were 70 APD patrol officers in the list of 250 top paid employees earning pay ranging from $108,167 to $188,844. There were 32 APD lieutenants and 32 APD sergeants in the list of 250 top paid employees earning pay ranging from $108,031 to $164,722 because of overtime.
In 2020, there were 69 patrol officers paid between $110,680 to $176,709, 28 APD Lieutenants and 32 APD Sergeants who were paid between $110,698 to $199,001 in the list of the 250 top paid city hall employees paid between.
CURRENT STAFFING LEVELS
When Mayor Tim Keller assumed office on December 1, 2017 for his first term, there were 861 full time sworn police according to the 2017-2018 city budget figures and payroll records at the time. To keep his campaign promises to grow the size of APD to 1,200 sworn police, Mayor Keller order his Administration to begin implementing an $88 million-dollar police expansion program. The announced goal was to increase the number of sworn police officers from 861 positions filled to 1,200, or by 339 sworn police officers, over a 4-year period. Keller promised to increase the number of sworn police in the department to 1,200 by the end of his first term, pledging to hire 100 new police officers a year.
APD is the largest budget department in the city. APD’s approved general fund operating 2022 budget is upwards of $222 million. The 2022 approved APD operating budget has funding for 1,100 sworn positions and 592 civilian support positions for a total of 1,692 full-time positions. It also includes funding for new positions, including 11 investigators to support internal affairs and the department’s reform obligations under the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement, and two communications staffers.
Notwithstanding the approved funding for 1,100 sworn police the number of police officers patrolling the street of Albuquerque is dangerously low. As of July 24, 2021, APD has 940 sworn police according to city personnel records, but only 369 are actually patrolling the streets of the city. The 369 filed service officers are divided into 6 area commands and 3 separate shifts.
According to an August 2 KOAT TV news report, APD patrol staffing is as follows:
369 patrol officers, for six area commands and 3 shifts
59 patrol sergeants
18 – 22 bike officers
There are 6,966 Albuquerque City employee according to personnel record. As of July 24, 2021, APD has 940 sworn police according to city personnel records. The average employee salary for the city of Albuquerque in 2020 was $44,475 or $21.38 an hour. This is 27.8% lower than the national average for government employees and 34.7% lower than other cities.
APD pay is already some of the highest law enforcement pay in the country when you add base pay, overtime pay, longevity pay, insurance benefits and retirement program yet the city is still having a problem with recruiting a new generation of sworn police and retaining experienced cops.
RESONS WHY RECRUITING AND TRAINING A NEW GENERATION OF YOUNGER POLICE OFFICERS DIFFICULT
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 and drop out.
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. 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.
LATERAL HIRE BONUSES DO NOT RESULT IN LONG TERM COMMITMENT
From a personnel management standpoint, it is highly likely that many APD police officers who are eligible for retirement 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.
When you offer $15,000 bonuses to lateral hires, what happens is that those officers are not making a long-term career commitment to stay with APD. What the lateral hires are doing is taking the bonus, hired at a higher salary for a 3 years to cap off their retirement pay and then move on as quickly as they can and retire. This is exactly what happened in the early part of Keller’s first term. APD began a process of raiding other New Mexico law enforcement departments offering higher wages and bonuses. Keller actually called it “poaching”.
Former APD Chief Michael Geier recruited many from the Rio Rancho police department where he retired as Chief to become APD Chief The first year of lateral hires resulted in 70 lateral transfer hires. Three years later, APD Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos revealed that most of those 70 laterals were no longer employed with APD and retired or moved on. Offering bonus pay to start their careers for new cadets being recruited with a 6-year commitment from the new officers would likely be far more successful.
The sign on bonuses of $15,000 for lateral police officers, and now $10,000 for new recruit cadets and $1,500 for police service aides will have some limited success but in the long run not make much of a difference. Paying more money to lateral police officer hires has been tried before, is still going on and has not worked. APD pay is already some of the highest law enforcement pay in the country when you add base pay, overtime, longevity pay, insurance benefits and retirement program and the city is still having a problem with retentions of experienced cops.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The paying of sign on bonuses of $10,000 is an excellent first step in recruitment of a new, younger generation of police officer, but it is not at all likely it will have much of an impact. To have a real impact, sign on bonuses to new recruits should be raised to $30,000 in exchange for a minimum commitment of 6 years of service with APD. The bonus contract would be for a 6 year term and if termination occurs before the 6 years, the contract would require a pro rata return payment. The $30,000 sign on bonus contract would do far more to ensure that APD retains new officers beginning an wanting a law enforcement career that the city has spent thousands each year to train only to have those new officers move on as soon as possible to another law enforcement agency.
Now that Mayor Tim Keller has secured a second 4-year term, he should direct the city Human Resource Department to rewrite APD sworn police job descriptions and restructure the APD pay system to salary pay system with grades and steps. Further, Keller should order increasing sign on bonus to new recruits as well as lateral hires to $30,000 and require a minimum 6 year commitment of active service with no inclusion of annual leave to secure a full six year of active service.
As an alternative to paying overtime and longevity bonus, the city should also do away with APD hourly wage and time and a half for overtime for sworn police and implement a salary structure based strictly on steps and years of service and performance and merit. A complete restructuring of the existing APD 40-hour work week and hourly wage system needs to be implemented.
A base pay salary system should be implemented for all APD sworn personnel. A base salary system with step increases for length of service should be implemented. The longevity bonus pay would be eliminated and built into the salary structure. Mandatory shift time to work would remain the same, but if more time is needed to complete a work load or assignments for the day, the salaried employee would work it for the same salary with no overtime paid and a modification of shift times for court appearances.
APD Patrol Officers First Class who handle DWI during nighttime shifts should be required to change their shift times to daytime shifts when the arraignments and trials occur to prevent overtime pay. As an alternative to DWI arraignment, the City Attorney’s Office should explore the possibility of expanding or modifying the Metro Traffic Arraignment Program with the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office assisting to include not just traffic citations but DWI arraignments to eliminate the need for APD officers to appear at such arraignments.
Negotiations for a new APD union contract have been suspended because of the pandemic. If and when the City and the APD union return to the bargaining table to negotiate a new contract, the abolishment of hourly wages for APD sworn and implementation of a salary structure should be the first negotiated item for the new contract. The city should also prohibit the inclusion of sergeants and lieutenants, which are management, in the union and make those positions “at-will” as are commanders.
Links to related blog articles are here:
State Auditor Brian Colón Foolish Saying His Audit On APD Overtime Abuse Will Result In 100% Compliance; 160 Police Union Members Made Between $110,000 To $200,000 In 2019 And 2020 Because Of Overtime; Abolish All APD Overtime And Implement Salary Structure With Steps