Where Have All The Policemen Gone?
By Dan Klein
Albuquerque was doing so well, what happened?
During the debacle of the R. J. Berry years, the Albuquerque Police Department shrank from almost 1,200 officers at the beginning of his tenor as mayor, to barely 800 officers eight years later. As APD officers were running out the front door, criminals were coming in the back door. It was during these years that crime started the astronomical rise that has yet to plateau.
Then along came Tim Keller with the promise that he was going to turn it all around. He was going to make Albuquerque a safer city by hiring more officers and by retaining the ones he already had. It all started off so well. Keller kept his promise of higher pay and many officers decided to stay with APD even with the sometimes craziness of the DOJ reform. The pay was so good that almost 100 retired APD officers suspended their pensions to come back and build a new pension at the higher pay rate. APD was able to start recruiting new officers and within three years APD was finally well over 900 officers again.
But then it all started to unravel.
As APD grew so did the demands from the DOJ. The biggest demand from the DOJ requires almost 100 officers who do nothing more than watch videos of the other police officers, looking for any, and I mean any, infraction. This was not a way to build morale, hammering officers for the most miniscule infraction (cursing to themselves in their car, eating in their car etc).
Then other agencies in New Mexico started paying the same wages as APD, but without the overbearing oversight. Whereas back in 2018 APD was stealing officers from other departments, now the trend was reversed. Veteran officers are leaving APD for places like Santa Fe County.
Then the bombshell was dropped just three weeks ago by Albuquerque Police Officer President Shaun Willoughby. He testified in federal court that during the year 2021 APD would probably lose the remaining 70 officers who had come out of retirement to build a new pension. He stated that their three years (the pension calculation is based upon the highest 3 years) was up and almost all of them had told him they were retiring this year.
I have been monitoring APD staffing for many years now. Normally APD doesn’t see a large reduction in officers until December, when most officers retire. Several months ago I began witnessing a disturbing trend that APD is losing large numbers of officers now.
In March APD announced it had just graduated a new police cadet class and the number of sworn officers stood at 998. When I reviewed APD payroll numbers in April I found that number had shrunk to 984, a reduction of 14 officers in one month. In May that number reduced again to 971 (13 more officers gone). Now in June the number of officers on APD payroll is 962, another reduction of 9 officers.
If this trend continues, and I see no reason why it won’t, APD will barely have 900 officers by the end of 2021. No where close to the 1,200 officers Keller promised when first elected. With contract talks at an impasse, morale in the toilet, officers resigning from voluntary units like Emergency Response Team, the DOJ micromanaging every aspect of a uniform officer’s day and the national nuttiness of defunding the police, I fear that APD is going to see a reduction in force just like Portland is experiencing.
As a citizen you might think 900 cops is a lot of officers, let me explain why it isn’t. Willoughby, in his testimony, told the judge that recently the Southwest Area (everything south of I-40 and west of the Rio Grande River) graveyard shift had only 4 officers assigned. Four officers for an area that is seeing a huge increase in violent crime and murders. An area that includes Westgate, the South Valley, west Central and the west hill, easily an area of 50,000 people or more. And APD had 4 officers to protect you. Officers within APD have told me this is the normal all over Albuquerque. Let that sink in.
Couple this with the knowledge that APD is a very young department when it comes to years in police work. If APD does lose those 70 officers, the community loses decades of experience that will take years upon years to rebuild. Young officers need mentorship and when those mentors leave the community loses.
APD manpower is shrinking. APD stands to lose valuable experience and the necessary numbers to provide minimum police protection to the community if Keller’s administration doesn't act now.
Willoughby and others are sounding the alarm, what will it take to wake up Keller?