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APD’s Ranks Don’t Keep Up With Population Growth

APD’s Ranks Don’t Keep Up With Population Growth

The city has 174,000 more people, crime has skyrocketed, and APD has only 30 to 40 more officers than it did 27 years ago.

Just how badly understaffed is the Albuquerque Police Department?

Consider that in 1990, APD had 809 sworn officers, 30 to 40 fewer than it has today.

But back then, the city had 384,000 residents, or 174,000 fewer than today.

So the city has 174,000 more people, crime has skyrocketed, and APD has only 30 to 40 more officers than it did 27 years ago.

For Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, those statistics show just how severely and dangerously understaffed APD is now.

“It is unbelievable to me,” Willoughby told ABQ Free Press. “It’s ridiculous for someone to not understand how horribly understaffed we are.

“We have a whopping 30 or 40 more officers than we did 30 years ago. Think about it. In 1990 there was no Cottonwood Mall. The West Side wasn’t developed; it was almost nothing.”

And in 1990, brick-like cellphones that cost $5,000 were just coming into use and no one used them to call 911, Willoughby said.

“Today, 87 percent of 911 calls are made by cellphone. Calls for service have almost doubled [since 1990] and we have 30 or 40 more officers. It’s unbelievable.”

Willoughby said that recent efforts to recruit more cops haven’t grow the department much because almost as many cops are leaving the force than joining it. Last year, for example, more than 90 cadets graduated from APD’s training academy. But almost that many left the department, either through retirements, firings or for other reasons.

As a result, the department had a net gain of three or four officers, Willoughby said. So how does APD get its numbers up to 1,100, or even 1,200 officers?

With money, to start with, Willoughby said. The city needs to keep officers by offering step raises, meaning giving more money for more years of service.

Currently, APD is competitive with other police departments in the region when it comes to paying beginning officers. Rookie cops start at $28 an hour. But after the fifth year on the force, they get no longevity raises and they basically stay at the same pay level for the rest of their careers.

Willoughby said it’ll take an extra $13 million to $15 million to offer that seniority pay and keep officers from retiring or leaving the department for higher paying jobs at other departments.

After five years, patrol officers should be making $35 an hour, and sergeants should be paid $35 to $36, Willoughby said.

Sergeants should be paid $42 an hour, and lieutenants $46 an hour, he added.

“If you pay a respectable salary that is competitive within this region, people will forego their retirement,” Willoughby said. “This year we’ve had four officers with less than six years on the job leave. Two left for the feds and two went to Colorado.

“Not only are they walking out the back door, but they’re running out the side door.”

Wiloughby added that the next mayor will have to deal with the mess that APD has become.

“Albuquerque needs a leader, somebody who has the guts to stand up and come up with a real plan,” Willoughby said. “Albuquerque needs to take a deep breath and realize that this is going to be expensive.”

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

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