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City Council Ups Police Pay

'I think the City Council and the city are starting to comprehend that, oh shit, this is not good. [Union] members felt they were cheated' police union official

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI

The Albuquerque City Council on Wednesday sweetened the pot for police officer raises, bonuses and back pay to $8.2 million.

A police union official called an “oh shit” moment for city leaders who finally realized that they’ve got a police manpower crisis to deal with.

The Council threw another $945,000 in the pot for police officer raises, appropriated $500,000 for retention bonuses for rank-and-file officers who are about to retire, and set aside $5 million to settle a lawsuit that said the city violated a 2008 contract with the police officers union when, early in Mayor Richard Berry’s first term, it broke the contract failed to give officers the last of three scheduled pay raises they were due under the agreement.

Wednesday’s money was on top of the $1.7 million that the Council had already approved for police officer raises. It means that rank-and-file cops will be brought up to the $28-an-hour pay scale they were promised under the 2008 contract. The $5 million to settle the lawsuit will give officers back pay they should have gotten under that contract, about $5,000 for each officer.

“It’s a leap in the right direction. The meaning behind the settlement is much more impactful than the money,” Shaun Willoughby, vice president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said after the meeting. “I think the City Council and the city are starting to comprehend that, oh shit, this is not good. [Union] members felt they were cheated [when their contract was violated by Berry’s administration], and hopefully we can mosey on down the river to rebuild the Albuquerque Police Department.”

The resolution to put more money toward pay raises and to fund the lawsuit settlement was sponsored by councilors Ken Sanchez, Dan Lewis and Klarissa Peña. The measure to set aside $500,000 in retention bonuses for rank-and-file officers with 19 or more years of service was sponsored by Sanchez and Councilor Trudy Jones.

The appropriations should clear the way for a new contract deal between the Albuquerque Police Officers Association and the city. APOA officials have been adamant in wanting to get officers up to the $28-an-hour pay level they were promised under the 2008 contract, and they have wanted the lawsuit settled. Willoughby said he expects the union and the city to hammer out a proposed contract next week which will then be presented to union membership.

Sanchez has said the extra money for officer raises was necessary because the Albuquerque Police Department has a staffing crisis. Since 2009, when Berry took office, the department has shrunk from nearly 1,100 officers to fewer than 850 today. Of those, only a little more than 400 are available to take service calls and patrol the streets.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.