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Moving Forward With Police Changes

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Santa Fe’s police union may be complaining about it, but the facts are in: By putting its officers on standard eight-hour, five-day-a-week shifts, the city has saved more than $100,000 in overtime pay and boosted the number of officers on patrol at any given time by more than 20 percent. And that’s despite the fact that the department is still 16 officers short of its full quota.

That’s pretty impressive. But there’s more. New City Councilor Bill Dimas has introduced a measure that would rein in the city’s generous police-cruiser take-home policy (that now applies even to officers who live an hour’s drive from town). That also will save money. Even if the city decides, as Dimas also is proposing, to pay officers who agree to live inside the city limits a bonus, the net result over time should be a more conspicuous police presence on city streets and in neighborhoods.

The city also has stepped up its police recruiting efforts, and Police Chief Ray Rael and councilors Monday batted around other ideas for beefing up the force and maintaining it at full strength. In particular, they mention recruiting from Santa Fe’s high schools — a strategy that could help keep Santa Fe’s police force close to home when not at work.

As Rael explained to city councilors Monday, the new policies haven’t yet put a dent in the city’s sky-high property crime rate. But arrests for burglary are up slightly, and plans for reinstituting a narcotics crime unit also should help in addressing the problem. The connection between narcotics use and property crime is no longer a matter of debate, and the existence of such a unit appears to be one key reason why Albuquerque police have been more successful in combatting property crime than their counterparts in Santa Fe.

So far, and despite union opposition, Mayor David Coss has been supportive of the shift change and other reform efforts. The mayor and the council should take a close look at Dimas’ proposals, too, since these appear to be right in line with the direction Rael has been leading the department.

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