Dinelli: The Annual Police Union “Bitch and Moan” Survey

(Editor's note: The opinions expressed by individual columnists aren't the opinions of the ABQReport; they are the opinions of the columnists. Note that at the top of our webpage it says "free-for-all." The goal is to generate free and wide-open expression on a wide variety of views, and, maybe, thoughtful discussion on topics. And remember, if someone has opinions that differ from yours, they aren't necessarily insane. Although you never know. - Dennis Domrzalski)

The Albuquerque Police Union released it’s annual “let’s all bitch and moan” survey it takes among sworn police officer’s holding the rank of lieutenant and under.

This year, 491 out of the 878 sworn officers took the survey.

SUPRISE! The survey found that morale is definitely low with 70% of the responding officers thinking about leaving APD in the last two years.

The union gave the officers a multiple-choice question to pick reasons why they were considering going elsewhere and 69% said work conditions, 67% said better pay and 67% said they want a better quality of life.

Specific comments that were revealing were written by officers as to why they had considered leaving APD and include:

• “Fear of media scrutiny and criminal charges.”

• “The (Department of Justice) has no business running a police department.”

• “This town sucks as a whole. Bad schools bad crime bad housing.”

• “Family would be safer outside of ABQ where police are allowed to do their job.”

• “The clowns that get promoted to supervisor.”

Patrol Officer’s First class make $27.50 and hour, no matter the number of years on the force.

When asked what could be done to increase the number of police officers, 77% of the officers said they could pay officers a more competitive salary.

Three-fourths of the officers who took the survey said a competitive salary would be between $32 and $36 an hour.

A whopping 98% of responding officers said APD’s staffing level has compromised officer safety, but that is not at all surprising given that APD has only 878 sworn police with only 458 assigned to field services hanlding 600,000 calls for service a year.

UNION SURVEY WAS TOOL FOR POLITICAL PROPAGANDA

What is noteworthy, nothing was said about how the rank and file feel about the future of the department.

There were no substantive questions if things are getting any better under the new management with a new Mayor, a new police chief and a new command staff.

There was no inquiry about the rank and file sense of loyalty to the department and the city nor question about their commitment to stay.

There are no specific inquiries as to what is wrong nor what has been done right with the Department of Justice reforms after three years.

There were no specific questions as to what policy or standard operating procedures need to change that will make things better for the rank and file.

No questions were asked about equipment and training deficiencies.

No questions were asked about the APD expansion plan put forth by the Keller Administration.

The union has never proposed any form of alternative pay arraignments other than making demands for increasing hourly wages.

The clear and unmistakable message from the survey and union was “give us more money so we will stay”.

APD POLICE OFFICER BASE PAY

Albuquerque Police Officers are some of the best paid law enforcement in the country when you take into account their pay, longevity pay incentives, benefits and retirement pay.

Based on the union survey, the police union and many APD police officers strongly dispute they are well paid, but in comparison to other city employees, they clearly are.

The Mayor of Albuquerque is paid $125,000 a year and the sixteen (16) city department directors are paid average of $110,000 and arguably these are 24/7 jobs.

Department directors must manage employees and more often than not work in far excess of a 40-hour week and they are never paid overtime, they are at will employees serving at the pleasure of the Mayor and their salaries stay the same for the fiscal year.

There are approximately 223 “ungraded,” full-time employees who are basically political appointees and who can be fired at will because they don’t have the rights and protections that the city’s 4,200 other “classified” employees do.

The average salary for classified city employees is $30,000 to $35,000 a year and they cannot be terminated without cause.

The average entry level Albuquerque patrolman first class makes $56,000 to $58,000 a year, depending on actual hours worked in a year, and are paid an additional 15% for benefits, such as insurance, paid sick leave and annual leave and the positions are classified and a police officer cannot be terminated without cause.

Even when terminated for cause or disciplined for cause, police officers are guaranteed and appeals process before the city personnel board.

All patrol officers first class are paid the exact same hourly rate of $27.50 no matter the number of years on the police force, therefore a four (4) year veteran of the force makes the same hourly wage as a ten (10) year veteran.

Under the union contract, sworn police officers are paid a mandatory two hours of overtime and paid “time and a half” for court appearances such as arraignments of DWI offenders and police prosecution of misdemeanor cases.

The Albuquerque Police Department is the only city hall department that pays longevity bonuses to city hall employees.

RETIRING FROM APD

APD police officers have one of the better retirement plans in the country and some would even say the best.

APD officers can retire after 25 years of service and be paid a pension of 90% of their top three (3) wage earning years with the city every year for the rest of their lives when they retire from the city.

APD officers are also allowed to accumulate all of their yearly vacation time and earned sick leave time and cash it out when they retire or they can be carried on the city payroll until it is paid out.

It is not uncommon for police officers to retire and be handed a check for thousands of dollars to compensate them for their accumulated unused sick and annual leave.

Further, APD officers are paid longevity pay bonuses of as little of $5,000 and as much as $15,000 to stay with the department and not leave or retire early.

APD retirement pay under the New Mexico Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) is considered one of the most lucrative in the country.

APD PATROL OFFICERS FIRST CLASS SOME OF HIGHEST PAID CITY EMPLOYEES

According to city payroll records, a patrolman first class was the city’s seventh top earner, taking home nearly $147,000 in salary and overtime.

Seven patrol officers first class were paid at least $124,000 in 2016.

A review of the city’s 250 top earners in 2017 reveals that 66 patrol officers first class were among the highest paid city employees earning a total of around $7.1 million in salary and overtime.

A total of 124 of the 250 top wage earners at city hall are employed by the Albuquerque Police Department and include patrol officers, sergeants, lieutenants, commanders and deputy chiefs, assistant chief and the chief with annual pay ranging from $95,000 a year up to $166,699 a year.

(See City of Albuquerque web site for full list of 250 top city wage earners).

Five (5) APD Patrol Officers First Class are listed in the top 250 city wage workers as being paid $146,971, $145,180, $140,243, $137,817 and $125,061 respectfully making them the 6th, the 7th, the 10th, the 12th and the 20th highest paid employees at city hall.

There are listed 66 Patrol Officers First Class in the list of the top 250 wage earners at city hall earning in excess of $95,000 a year and as much as $146,000 a year.

Combined, there are a total of 91 APD sworn police officers and sergeants who are named in the top 250 wage earners and city hall.

The fact that any APD Patrolman First Class are paid as much as between $95,000 to $146,000, or two to three times their normal salary in any given year should be very concerning to the Mayor and City Council.

Consecutive shifts or excessive overtime for any police officer can lead to extreme fatigue, emotional burnout and reduce an officer’s alertness and response times and reflexes that can endanger lives and public safety.

KELLER ADMINISTRATION EXPANSION PLAN

Midway through the current fiscal year, APD had 836 sworn officers despite being fully funded for 1,000 sworn police officers for the past three fiscal years.

The number of sworn police is currently 878 at the beginning of 2018.

Albuquerque needs at least 1,200 sworn police officers to effectively return to community-based policing that will reduce overtime costs and reduce crime statistics.

The Keller Administration is calling for an $88 million dollar of additional funding and increased costs for APD over the next four fiscal years from 2018 to 2022.

The $88 million dollars for expanding APD will include expanded academy training and the vehicles and other equipment that additional officers will require.

At a minimum, the expansion plan calls for $32 million dollars in recurring costs.

In the 2018-2019 proposed budget, $12.8 million is being proposed to carry out a four-year plan for recruiting new officers.

The Keller Administration APD expansion will be over a four-year period, with 32 million dollars of recurring expenditures, to hire 322 officers and expand APD from the current 878 sworn police officers to 1,200 officers.

An aggressive hiring and recruitment program is in the planning stages to increase the ranks of patrol officers.

Sign on bonuses, tuition debt payoff, mortgage down payment bonuses and moving and relocation bonuses need to be offered to new recruits before any progress in recruiting can be made.

The 2018-2019 proposed budget calls for APD to increase its ranks to 1,040 officers in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2018.

The recruitment and hiring plan proposes to add 100 new police officers per year until a 1,200-staffing level is reached.

The ultimate goal is to return to community-based policing to reduce spiking crime rates.

REVAMP APD PAY STRUCTURE

A complete restructuring of APD hourly wages to base salaries with step increases should be implemented.

A mandatory “cap” on the amount overtime a sworn police officer can be paid needs to be established that is fair and equitable for all sworn personnel to make available overtime to more sworn police officers in the department.

APD should do away with hourly wage and time and a half for overtime for sworn police and implement a salary structure based on steps and years of service.

A system of overtime bonuses to be paid at the end of the year for accumulated increments of overtime could be implement.

Shift time to work would remain the same, but if more time is needed to complete work load, the employee works it for the same salary with no overtime and a modification of shift times for court appearances.

Salaries and step increase take away inflating overtime and motivates employees to get more done within the allotted shift or modification of shift times.

CONCLUSION

80% of the city council in increase in gross receipts tax, which will generate $40 million this year and the $55 million a year thereafter, will be going to public safety including APD.

The police union lobbied for the tax increase and pressured the city council to make sure at least 60% of the tax revenues would go to public safety, despite the fact the city was facing a $40 million dollar deficit.

Mayor Tim Keller was endorsed by the Police Union and no doubt the Union will want its pound of cash and make its demands relying on its deficient survey and demanding the Mayor to support whatever it wants when it comes to increasing pay.

Getting to the 1,200 level of sworn officers where APD is fully staffed is going to take years and it will have to be done in increments that is realistic and can be accomplished.

Until then, APD’s slogan will be “To serve and protect” while the police union’s slogan will be “What’s in your wallet?”

Independent Journalism

I've been a reporter, writer and editor for 37 years. I'm dedicated to honest, fair and hard-hitting reporting. I'm not conservative or liberal, but am just a reporter who tries to get to the truth at any given point in time. I don't believe in pulling punches or being a lap dog because that serves no one. A free and aggressive press is essential to human liberty. That's why the Founding Fathers put a free press in the Constitution. So on this site you'll get a variety of news, fearless opinion, analysis, humor, satire and commentary. It's kind of like a free-for-all. My motto is "Without fear and without favor."  But good journalism takes time and money, so I hope you will contribute what you can to these efforts by clicking on the "Donate" button above. I could use your help. Thanks, Dennis Domrzalski.

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