Police departments and sheriffs’ offices across New Mexico are battling shortages of officers and deputies amid retirements, low pay and a lack of qualified applicants.
From Albuquerque police to small rural agencies like the Torrance County Sheriff’s office, departments are reporting staffing shortfalls and say it may get worse next year. Officials said the shortages hurt agencies’ ability to fight crime, affect some specialized units and often require officers to work many shifts.
“It’s a state problem and these staffing shortages get deeper and deeper every year,” Stephanie Lopez, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said. “Pay is not keeping up with the demands of the job.”
The shortage comes at a time when agencies say Mexican drug cartels are increasingly using New Mexico’s isolated regions as routes and small rural areas are fighting gangs.
At the state’s largest police department, Lopez said more than 80 officers have left the Albuquerque Police Department due to retirement this year and that number may jump to 100, leaving the agency down.
The anticipated shortfall sparked a big multimedia recruiting push by Albuquerque officials earlier this year that included placing job postings on the free website Craigslist.
Meanwhile, the Eddy County Sheriff’s office and the Portales Police Department also reported staffing shortfalls.
Eddy County Sheriff Scott London said his agency is facing potential staffing shortages because 20 percent of his staff is eligible for retirement in 2014. The agency also is losing staff to the region’s oil industry, which is experiencing a boom and can offer better pay.
To battle the staffing shortfall, Eddy County is working on changing sick leave or vacation retention transfer policies to entice more candidates.
In Roswell, the city is already seeing the effects of staffing shortages. The southeastern New Mexico city recently saw burglaries jump 38 percent and auto thefts skyrocket 52 percent.
The department has received help from New Mexico State Police, the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations, and the city is trying to recruit officers from nearby states.
Luna County Sheriff Raymond Cobos and Chaves County Sheriff Rob Coon said another problem is the type of applicants they are receiving for openings. Both said 10 years ago, each opening saw around 40 applicants. Now they are lucky if they get seven, they said.
“The experience level just isn’t there,” Cobos said.
But even when staffing is at full capacity, Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas Rodella said more resources and deputies are needed.
Rodella’s office covers a northern New Mexico county of nearly 58,000 square miles with only 29 deputies.
Rodella said the office needs around 40 to 60 deputies to patrol a county hit hard by drug crimes.
“It’s hard to be proactive when you are just answering calls,” Rodella said. “The support that we receive from the county commissioners needs to be more than they are giving us.”