Berry made three decisions that caused the manpower crisis at APD. After six years, Berry changed course and realized that to hire and retain officers, you have to pay them well. It’s simple economics.
BY DAN KLEIN
It’s only January, but it must feel like Groundhog Day for the Albuquerque Police Department. Back when Marty Chavez was mayor for life, APD had 1,100 officers, high pay, hiring bonuses, retention bonuses, and Albuquerque reaped the benefits of lower crime.
Albuquerque had a vision of becoming an economic powerhouse in the Southwest, but that all came to a halt when Richard Berry became mayor. I won’t blame Berry for everything, as he had to make hard decisions during the recession. Unfortunately for Albuquerque, though, Berry made three decisions that caused the manpower crisis at APD.
First, he enacted a requirement that all new applicants have 60 hours of college credits, but he didn’t offer competitive salaries for degree holders. And he ended the bonuses that Chavez had in place for new hires. APD recruiting went from a flood of new applicants to a trickle, and APD sometimes graduated only a handful of cadets.
Second, Berry refused to honor the final stage of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association contract for police pay raises, even though the money already had been appropriated. In droves, officers began to leave the force – asking as they headed for the door why they should work for a mayor who wouldn’t comply with a legally signed labor contract.
Third, Berry ended a Chavez-created veteran officer retention plan that a city audit said had succeeded in keeping 123 officers from retiring. The plan ended in 2011 and – no surprise – most of those officers retired.
When Berry took office in 2009, APD had 1,100 APD officers. Today, it has 830.
In the sixth year of Berry economics, something strange happened. In 2015, he quietly reversed course on the college requirement and changed the rule to require that within three years of becoming an APD cop, a new officer had to obtain 60 college credit hours.
Immediately, APD had a class of almost 50 cadets – 38 of whom will graduate in March. APD announced it will begin another academy class on Jan. 25 with 30 to 50 cadets. APD plans to continue overlapping academy classes throughout 2016.
Being conservative in my estimate, I believe the department will graduate approximately 40 new officers with each class. That would add approximately 120 new officers in 2016 and another 40 early in 2017.
That means that APD, which now has 830 officers, will grow to 950 by the end of this year. Getting rid of the college requirement has opened the floodgates for APD recruiting.
On the compensation front, this past October, City Councilor Ken Sanchez offered Berry millions of dollars to settle the APD labor contract dispute from 2010. Berry refused the offer.
Two days later, Albuquerque was rocked by the homicides of Officer Daniel Webster and 4-year-old Lily Garcia. Berry, in a mea culpa moment, went back to Sanchez and accepted his original offer. Sanchez, to his credit, then sweetened the pot by adding more money to bring back a retention bonus earmarked for street cops, not the APD brass that Berry and Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry have lavished with taxpayer largesse.
As this edition went to print, APD beat cops were voting on a new contract to bring them up to $28 per hour (the amount promised back in 2010) and a monetary settlement for the wages that they lost when Berry refused to honor the 2008 contract. Later this year, APD officers will vote on a retention bonus for veteran officers.
I predict that this raise, retention bonus and court settlement will stop APD retirements. Coupled with the removal of the college-degree requirement, APD will be at 95 percent of its budgeted staffing level by December and will go over 100 percent (1,000 officers) staffing in early 2017.
After six years, Berry changed course and realized that to hire and retain officers, you have to pay them well. It’s simple economics. Councilor Sanchez deserves praise for putting the money on the table. It’s 2016, and here I am praising Berry and Sanchez, and marijuana isn’t even legal, yet.
My only question now: Why is Berry wasting our legislators’ time trying to bring back double-dipping when he appears to have solved APD’s manpower crisis himself?
Some things, I guess, just don’t change.
Dan Klein is a retired Albuquerque police sergeant. He can be reached via Facebook.