Commissioner's Offer of Sheriff's Manpower Help Ignored
It looks like Mayor Richard Berry has rejected a plan that would have quickly sent reinforcements to the understaffed Albuquerque Police Department by having Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies respond to some police calls within the city limits.
The proposal was put to Berry this past October by Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, who pitched it as a temporary solution to APD’s manpower shortage. But Berry never embraced the idea, even though Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales was all for it, Johnson said.
With crime surging in the city, APD needs help now, Johnson said. The idea also made sense because BCSO is fully staffed with 328 deputies and court security specialists while APD is short about 150 officers, he said.
“I have brought this up a couple of times to the mayor, and he didn’t seem to be interested,” Johnson, an announced mayoral candidate, told ABQ Free Press Weekly. “The Sheriff’s Department is fully staffed, and I don’t want to wait for a new mayor to get things done. It would have an immediate benefit to the taxpayers of Albuquerque, and it would take some of the pressure off APD officers in the field.”
Berry’s office didn’t respond to an inquiry from this newspaper about what the mayor thought of the idea. And Gonzales’ office declined to respond to a question seeking confirmation that the sheriff supported the plan.
APD has been mired in an officer shortage for years. Berry’s solution has been to ask the state Legislature to pass a return-to-work bill that would allow retired police officers to return to APD while still collecting their pensions. For several consecutive years, the Legislature has rejected the idea as a possible threat to the solvency of the public employees’ retirement fund.
Former city councilor and chief public safety officer Pete Dinelli, a Berry critic, said Johnson’s idea was a good one. “That’s really thinking out of the box, and it could help solve the current officer shortage,” Dinelli said.
“You do a pilot project for a year, and you see what happens,” he said. “And it could be the first step toward law enforcement consolidation.”
Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, scoffed at the proposal and said the city needs to focus on only one thing: hiring more cops.
“I’m sick and tried of everybody trying to come up with a band-aid for something that needs open-heart surgery,” Willoughby said. “The short-term solution is the long-term solution. We need more cops in the city of Albuquerque.”
Johnson said he told Berry that the plan could be accomplished in a “couple of days” through a written agreement between the city and the county. The deal would benefit the city by getting citizens’ calls for service answered more quickly and would benefit the county because it would be paid for the deputies’ time, which would help alleviate its budget deficit, Johnson said. The city could afford it because it has 150 police officer positions that are budgeted but not filled, Johnson said.
“I have encouraged the mayor to do this,” Johnson said. “His response was always the same, ‘I think we need to study it.’ There was never a definite yes or no.”