Number of New Cadets Down From Last Year
Officer Shortage Could Last Years
Two Plans to Rebuild APD
Both of Albuquerque's mayoral candidates have said they will ad 300 to 400 net new officers to the Albuquerque Police Department's ranks in an attempt to get the department up to a strength of 1,100 to 1,200 officers.
That task will be enormous and they will have to find different ways to build the police force because APD's current recruiting efforts aren't working in regards to building the department up to full strength.
In 2016, APD graduated 93 cadets from its training academy – a significant number. But nearly as many officers left the department through retirements, firings and other departures, and the net new gain to the police force was four officers.
This year, APD will graduate only 71 cadets. In a normal year, the department loses 60 to 70 officers to retirements and other departures. So there's a chance that APD's ranks could actually wind up shrinking this year.
APD is budgeted for 1,000 officers but only has around 850 to 860 sworn officers.
“We've lost a lot of cops this year, mid-career cops that are just leaving,” said Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association. “If we stick with the current [recruiting] situation we will find ourselves in the same predicament [a chronically understaffed police department] in five to 10 years.
“There are never going to be net gains in the hundreds [of new officers] unless we absolutely attack this problem.”
So how can a new mayor significantly increase the number of officers at APD?
The APOA has a plan that hinges on big pay raises for cops and the aggressive recruiting of officers from other police departments. Willoughby said the plan would cost an extra $15 million a year and would get the department's up to 1,200 officers within 18 months.
Here's what the APOA's plan includes:
- Raising the pay of five-year officers to $36 an hour, up from the current $28 an hour. Sergeants would be paid $42 an hour and lieutenants $46 an hour, under the plan.That, Willoughby said, would bring APD's pay scale in line with other departments in the region and would prevent officers from leaving APD for higher paying jobs in other cities.
- Graduating 100 new recruits from the academy every year. By offering a higher rate of pay, APD would be able to attract many more recruits than it does now, Willoughby said.
- Aggressively recruiting officers from other departments by touting New Mexico's excellent retirement plan for police officers and its competitive pay scale. In New Mexico, cops can retire at 90 percent of their three top-paying years after 25 years on the job. It's one of the best retirement plans in the nation.
- Enticing officers who have retired from APD to return for at least three more years. The officers would not be able to collect their retirement while on the job, but at the higher rate of pay - $36 an hour – they would be able to pad their future retirement benefits. That's because retirement benefits are calculated on the top three years of pay. Retired offices who returned to work would be able to build a new top three years, Willoughby said.
Retired APD sergeant Dan Klein, who is also an ABQReport columnist, said he doubts that the APOA's plan to bring back retired officer will work.
“Bringing back retired guys sounds great, but in reality, once you retire and start getting those checks, things change,” Klein said. “You don't have to put up with lapel cameras and a command staff that secretly records you. I don't think that most of them would come back.”
What would work, and what has worked in the past, Klein said, is starting a retention bonus program for veteran officers who are ready to retire. Mayor Marty Chavez started such a program during the last of this three terms in office, and it was successful in preventing officers from retiring, Klein said.
Klein added that the two mayoral candidates, Dan Lewis and Tim Keller, should be making personal appeals to veteran officers who are near retirement and asking them to stay on the force for a few more years.
“If the candidates were to appeal to the veteran officers and say a retention plan will go into effect within 30 days, I think you would see a lot of officers stay,” Klein said.
Here are Klein's proposals on how to quickly grow APD's ranks:
1. The new mayor needs to do a complete audit of APD manpower. Civilianize everything that does not require a sworn police officer. That means use police officers in only positions specific to their sworn status (911 responders, detectives who actually do cases and appear in court). If units, such as Horse Mounted, are not answering calls for service get rid of them, or suspend their status until we have more officers. I have been told there are a lot of closet positions that have sworn officers in them. Get rid of this and put these officers back in uniform patrol / real detectives.
2. The new mayor and city council need to come up with a benefit package to keep veteran officers from retiring. Most officers are still leaving at 20 years or even earlier (early retirement leave). Give them a reason to stay for the max, or even beyond (that is 25 years). Marty Chavez offered a veteran officer retention plan, that did not impact / involve PERA. It gave veteran officers, once they got to 17 years a $6,000 bonus into their 457 plan (it’s like a 401k). At 18 years they got an $8,000 bonus. At 19 years it was $10,000 and at 20 years, and for each year after, it was $12,000. This plan worked, it kept 130 officers from retiring. We need to implement it again, ASAP.
3. The package for new cadets is pretty good. We seem to be recruiting new officers. I would streamline part of this process by removing the polygraph requirement. There is no scientific evidence that shows polygraphs work. In fact, the evidence is overwhelming that it does not work. Get rid of this step, it is a waste of time and money.
4. Recruiting only has one officer assigned. That is ridiculous. I would look into using a private company for recruiting. Give them a set number of lateral officers and cadets and if they over achieve (get more) in a given year that company gets a bonus.
5. Laterals. APD must hire laterals to increase their numbers quickly. Departments like Dallas PD are in crisis over their pension plan failing. APD has a great, solid pension. Use this to recruit good veteran officers from other departments. Austin Texas PD did this two years ago. They went into Memphis PD and recruited away almost 100 veteran cops. APD must do the same. Keep the standards high and recruit the best laterals.
Willoughby said APD is in crisis and that something must be done immediately to grow APD's ranks.
“We are in a fight for the streets and we are losing,” Willoughby said.