Already this year, there have been at least 31 homicides in Albuquerque, compared to 28 for all of last year
It’s a simple but disheartening story for members of the Albuquerque Police Department, especially the patrol officers whose job it is to respond to more than 518,000 dispatch calls a year: Violent crime is up in the city and the number of officers fighting crime is down, way down from what it should be.
Already this year, there have been at least 31 homicides in Albuquerque, compared to 28 for all of last year. In 2014, violent crimes rose by 12.4 percent, with increases seen in the number of robberies, aggravated assaults, auto thefts, arsons and larcenies, according to APD figures.
While Mayor Richard Berry’s administration says the city has some 878 sworn officers, it never really says that the number of cops actually patrolling the streets and responding to all of those calls is a little over 400 – and that’s to cover three shifts.
Nor does his office say that the number is actually lower on any given day because of cops being on vacation, sick leave or in court. Nor does it mention that of those 878 officers, 155 are sergeants and other supervisors who don’t take service calls. City Hall rarely notes that on average, 60 cops retire or leave the department each year.
It all means that cops here aren’t really preventing crime; they’re reacting to it.
“Police officers are averaging 2,000 calls for service a year. They are tired; they are walking in the door with 20 calls for service backed up. Crime is going through the roof and there are not enough police officers in the city,” said Shaun Willoughby, vice president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.
“There is very little proactive policing going on; they have created a reactive police force. Guys don’t have time to do community policing; they don’t have time to sit down with kids in the park; they don’t even have time to eat lunch.”
Because violent crime is up and the number of cops is shrinking, response times to the most serious 911 calls – robberies, domestic violence, car crashes and homicides – are up more than two minutes over 2010, said former City Councilor Pete Dinelli. It now takes an average of 11 minutes and 12 seconds to respond to the most serious calls, categorized as “Priority 1” calls, Dinelli said.
APD has loosened its requirements for applicants to join the force, but Dinelli, who unsuccessfully challenged Berry for the mayor’s job in 2013, said Berry’s recent statements that APD Chief Gorden Eden is on the right track in managing the police force are ridiculous.
“For the mayor to say that they are on the right track, that is obscene,” Dinelli told ABQ Free Press. “At any given time you’ve got maybe 75 officers a shift to cover the City of Albuquerque. You’ve got a department that in the last year-and-a-half has been in meltdown. Officers are overworked and underpaid.”
Dinelli knows about response times. From 2007 to 2009 he was the interim director of the city’s 911 system under then-Mayor Marty Chavez. “Response times had skyrocketed and I was charged with implementing procedures to get them down. We implemented aggressive hiring and training procedures and at the end of 2009 we got response times down to eight minutes and fifty-four seconds,” Dinelli said.
Delays in responding to calls could be catastrophic. “Domestic violence is a ‘Priority 1’ call, and usually after the eighth or ninth domestic violence call it results in a body bag,” Dinelli said. “When you have a minute to a minute-and-a-half delay you are looking at serious injury [to cops and the public].”
Willoughby said there a many reasons why the department is losing officers. Pay, which for a patrol officer tops out at $26.44 an hour after seven years, is probably the biggest. So is the barrage of negative publicity the department has gotten over the past several years for excessive use of force, and what Willoughby said is a lack of support from Berry’s administration and the City Council.
“There should be over 600 police officers just in Field Services,” Willoughby said. “Officers are just miserable. It is going to take years to repair this. It won’t happen overnight.”
— Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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