Measure would help APD retain veteran cops

It looks like three state lawmakers from Albuquerque have found one solid way for the Albuquerque Police Department – and departments across the state – to grow its ranks and keep veteran officers from retiring.

The three, Representatives Nate Gentry and Patricio Ruiloba, and Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto, have introduced a bill (House Bill 21) in the Legislature that would offer a way for police departments to give cops with more than 20 years of experience a $15,000-a-year retention bonus for three years.

Under the plan, the state would contribute $7,500 a year for the bonuses and the local departments would have to match that for a total of $15,000. The state's contribution would come from the Law Enforcement Protection Fund.

The bonuses would not count toward an officer's base salary and thus would not affect their pensions or the Public Employees Retirement Association's pension funds.

APD is budgeted for 1,000 officers, but only has around 840 on staff. The department has stepped up its recruitment efforts in recent years – it graduated more than 90 cadets in 2016 – but it can't seem to keep officers from leaving for other departments or from retiring.

For instance, even though APD graduated more than 90 cadets in 2016, it had a net gain of only three or four officers because of retirements and other departures.

Retired APD Sgt. Dan Klein said the bill would go a long way to helping APD get back up to its full strength of 1,000 officers. And, he said it's much better than the old, return-to-work bills that were supported in past years by then-Mayor Richard Berry.

Here are some of Klein's thoughts on the bill:

It is a stand alone bill. This is the right way for the state to proceed for several reasons.

First, there is no impact on PERA. This is most important. There will not be any fight with PERA and retirees.

Second, it utilizes a the Law Enforcement Fund and the jurisdictions money. Half each, everyone has skin in the game. It’s a great use of the Law Enforcement Fund.

Third, it’s bi-partisan (what? GOP and DEM getting along for the greater good?) Gentry is a Republican and Ivey-Soto and Ruiloba are Democrats.

Fourth, a similar program was done internally by Albuquerque under Mayor Marty Chavez ten years ago. A city audit showed that 129 veteran APD officers took advantage of this plan, thereby postponing their retirements.

Fifth, this is a win for veteran cops because they will get the $15,000 yearly retention bonus and continue working toward a great pension. If an officer took advantage of all three years, would see their pension grow from 70% to 80% (approximately). The money and the pension are real incentives to continue working, and if allowed (this I am not sure about) would entice many recently retired officers to return to their old department.

APD currently has around 840 officers. If this plan were enacted and APD took advantage of it, lets say just 50 officers delayed their retirement. If APD continues to graduate 70 officers (they did this in 2017 and 90 officers in 2016) from the academy, the department could be at 900 before the end of 2018. More retirements delayed and more new officers hired, APD could hit 1,000 in 2019. Statewide there is no problem hiring new officers, the academies are full. The issue has been retaining the veteran officers and HB 21 is the best way to do this and not to create a fight with PERA.

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