Democratic Senators to Berry: Stop shifting blame
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
The Albuquerque Police Department’s staffing shortage crisis is the product of Mayor Richard Berry’s weak leadership and not the fault of the state Legislature, three Democratic state senators said Thursday.
They presented a nine-point legislative plan they said would help Albuquerque solve its crime and police shortage problem.
None of those fixes, though, includes a return-to-work law, which Berry has pushed in the last several years and which he is proposing again. Return-to-work as Berry has proposed it would allow retired police officers to collect their pensions while collecting a full-time salary.
Senators Michael Padilla, Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Daniel Ivey Soto, all from Albuquerque, said Berry needs to launch a Manhattan-style project to recruit and retain police officers, and he needs to stop blaming the Legislature for Albuquerque’s crime and police department problems.
“Since the mayor came into office we have heard that everything was the fault of his predecessor, and now that he can no longer blame his predecessor he has blamed the Legislature,” Ivey Soto said, adding that Berry should take responsibility for his own failings. “I think we are facing a lack of leadership in the city and that lack of leadership is costing lives.”
The senators held a news conference in front of APD’s downtown headquarters about an hour after Berry had completed his own news conference in his City Hall office during which he called on the Legislature pass laws to keep repeat violent offenders off the city’s streets.
Ortiz y Pino [who writes a column for this newspaper] suggested that Berry was irresponsible for suggesting a return-to-work fix to APD’s problems just two years after state lawmakers tried to fix the Public Employees Retirement Association’s pension fund insolvency issue by requiring public employees to work longer and accept reduced benefits. “We spent five years working on this [fix],” he said. Asking lawmakers to unravel the fix wasn’t an option, Pino said.
Ortiz y Pino also said that Berry’s claim that all police departments in the state are having trouble hiring and retaining officers wasn’t true. “No other law enforcement agency in the state is understaffed,” he said.
Soto said that by pushing return-to-work, Berry was asking PERA and the Legislature to pay for his leadership and policy failures. Soto said Berry was essentially saying, “I can fill the staff at the police department if someone else will pay for it.”
Padilla said that APD’s staffing level has fallen 30 percent under Berry’s administration, a condition that has been “devastating to the city of Albuquerque.”
The senators’ nine-point plan included fully funding mental health programs, a constitutional amendment to allow judges to deny bail to violent criminal suspects and a call to Berry to settle his disputes with the union that represents Albuquerque police officers within 90 days.
In 2010, Berry broke the union’s three year contract and refused to give police officers raises they were due under the 2008 contract. He also required all city employees, including police officers, to take a 2.5 percent pay cut. Albuquerque cops are still not getting the $28-an-hour wage they were promised under that contract.
The question facing legislators is whether all of the fixes proposed by Berry and the three senators will be able to be heard in the upcoming 30-day legislative session. The agenda for the session is set by Gov. Susana Martinez. Bills that on subjects not contained in her pre-session message to legislators cannot be considered.
“We stand behind making public safety a priority in the 2016 session,” Padilla said.
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