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State Police pay overhaul could cost $10.8 million

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Increasing pay for New Mexico State Police officers to make their salaries competitive with other law enforcement agencies could cost nearly $10.8 million, lawmakers were told Wednesday.

A private consultant’s study for the Department of Public Safety found 10 other law enforcement agencies — including in San Juan County, Hobbs, Farmington, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Carlsbad and Santa Fe — pay higher starting salaries than the $18.21 hourly rate for a State Police patrolman.

A starting police officer in Hobbs is paid more than $22 an hour, and there is a $25,000 signing bonus after five years, according to the study outlined to the Legislative Finance Committee. The panel will make spending recommendations to next year’s Legislature.

Public Safety Secretary Gorden Eden said pay differences make it difficult to recruit and retain State Police officers.

“The hurdle that we can’t overcome is pay,” Eden said.

Sen. John Smith, a Deming Democrat and committee vice chairman, said it’s unlikely a significant pay plan overhaul could be implemented in a single year. But he suggested it could be phased in over several years if there was an agreement with the administration to take that approach.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration hasn’t decided on a specific pay increase proposal to recommend to lawmakers. But Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said in a statement after the hearing that the governor hopes to address pay problems next year for State Police and other hard-to-fill jobs, such as correctional officers.

Consultant Neville Kenning, who prepared the study, recommended a pay revision providing for larger increases in the first few years an officer works for the State Police. Kenning also suggested meaningful raises when someone is promoted up the ranks from patrolman to sergeant and then to lieutenant, captain and higher positions.

As proposed, the starting hourly pay for a patrolman would increase 18 percent to $20.50 in the next fiscal year if fully funded and could reach $27.74 after eight years of service. Starting pay for a sergeant would go up almost 14 percent to $30.51 an hour, and there would be a 20 percent increase for a captain — who no longer receives overtime pay — to $38.12 an hour.

If those changes were made, the study said, a patrolman’s starting pay would rank fifth among the state’s largest law enforcement agencies.

Kenning said the proposed $10.8 million salary overhaul is the equivalent of 3 percent annual increases over six years.

The debate over State Police pay comes as the agency is under scrutiny for recent officer-involved shootings. An officer in Taos last month fired shots at the tire of a minivan carrying children after the driver twice fled following a routine traffic stop.

State Police Chief Police Pete Kassetas assured lawmakers the shooting will be thoroughly investigated and actions taken if the officer improperly fired at the vehicle. He said the agency makes thousands of traffic stops.

“We do the best job we can, but we’re human,” Kassetas said.

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