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APD Ranks Down From '07

By T.J. Wilham
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    Despite spending more than $1 million on getting and keeping more police officers on the streets, the Albuquerque Police Department has only three more cops answering calls for service full time than it did a year ago.
    And the department's ranks decreased the past year, going from 998 officers to 972 as of Friday.
    APD goes through a bid process each April, during which time officers pick assignments. After the bid last year, 434 officers were assigned to answer the nearly 450,000 calls APD gets a year.
    This year, there are 437 officers— 45 percent of the department's manpower— assigned to take the calls. Five years ago, 49 percent of the force was designated to take calls.
    Response times also slowed by nearly three minutes during the same time period.
    APD has been in a recruiting crisis the past three years, twice failing to meet Mayor Martin Chávez's goal of 1,100 officers. The deadline has been extended to December.
    APD's budget includes $1 million to increase its manpower. About $140,000 is for recruiting, the rest for retention bonuses to keep veteran officers from retiring early.
    Its latest strategy to boost manpower is a new contract signed last month with the police union that will give new officers a 47 percent pay increase over the next three years.
    Police Chief Ray Schultz said this week that the department would be at 1,100 officers by Dec. 1. By next bid, 500 of those officers will answer calls full time, he said.
    "We'll be awfully darn close to having 500 officers by the next bid," Schultz said. "It takes a year to 18 months before you start seeing the benefits of the money we have spent on recruiting."
    Schultz said four academy classes of 156 total officers will graduate by year's end. With 19 officers from other police departments who have committed to transferring and 20 retired cops who have applied to be school resources officers, the chief said he's confident of reaching his goal.
    Critics have said Schultz's administration is "padding" the numbers. The chief said this week that his manpower count includes retired officers working part-time positions, such as at the firing range and on the department's computer system.
    And the chief has frozen assignments for detectives and other specialized units while he tried to put more cops on the streets. This week, there were more than 20 vacancies in the department's detective bureau.
    The chief's allocation of manpower drew criticism a year ago from the Albuquerque Police Officers Association. But this week, the union said it was more satisfied and that Schultz's administration is "trying hard" to get more cops on the streets.
    "I think they have made some attempts to fix the problem when it comes to the field," union president Ron Olivas said. "Had they not frozen those detective's positions, we could be looking at 20 fewer guys in the field.
    "I hope over the next year and a half, they get those detectives' numbers up, because we need those detectives, too."
    Schultz said it's not all about the numbers. He said several changes are being made this month that will improve the department's poor response times.
    Last year's average response times for all calls was 24.5 minutes— an increase of more than three minutes since 2002.
    For top priority calls, such as shootings and home invasions, the response time was 8.9 minutes— an increase of 1.3 minutes.
    The chief has changed all of APD's beats, added a sixth area command on the West Side, launched a new computer system that will track officers' down time and has changed all of the department's schedules from four 10-hour days to five eight-hour days.
    He said all those changes should improve the department's efficiency.
    "By improving our efficiencies, the number of officers we have are going to work smarter," Schultz said. "We are going to make it work."