Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
A badge means a big pay bump at the University of New Mexico this year.
While most employees at the state’s largest university received 1 percent raises, campus police got a 13 percent hike under the administration’s new agreement with the UNM police union.
Leaders say UNM needed to compete with the Albuquerque Police Department, which is aggressively recruiting as the city grapples with some of the country’s worst crime rates.
APD has raised its pay and is running shortened police academies for “lateral” hires, sworn and certified officers joining from different law enforcement agencies or former APD officers returning to the force.
The University of New Mexico Police Department is fully staffed, with all 40 spots filled, a spokesman said.
But the force did lose two people to APD in recent months, and he said others are contemplating a similar jump.
“It would devastate our department if (UNM) didn’t come up with something. … Even with the raise we did get, we still have people looking to go back to APD,” UNMPD Lt. Trace Peck said.
UNMPD’s current starting compensation, $23.41 per hour, still lags behind that of the local competition.
APD recently raised starting hourly pay to $29. Veteran officers can earn more – $31.50 with at least 15 years of experience. In addition, APD will offer “longevity” bonuses that kick in at five years and amount to $100 to $600 extra per pay period.
About 90 percent of UNM’s officers have retired from other agencies, according to Peck.
He said the university has traditionally been a desirable destination because it has a separate retirement system from law enforcement agencies, so the “double-dipping” restriction does not apply. A UNMPD officer could earn a university paycheck while, for example, still collecting a pension from APD service.
But Peck said APD’s rising pay has some UNM officers considering suspending those retirement checks, going back to APD and working at a compensation level that would significantly increase their pension payments once they finally retire for good.
“Owing to the generous incentives that Albuquerque Police Department (APD) offered as a return to work incentive for sworn officers, and given that the vast majority of our force is retired from APD, this negotiating strategy became an imperative,” UNM spokesman Dan Jiron said in a written response to Journal questions.
Both President Garnett Stokes and Executive Vice President for Administration David Harris approved the increase, according to Jiron, who called an experienced police force “integral” to Stokes’ efforts to improve campus safety.
Security is a major concern at UNM, which ranks first in auto thefts out of more than 11,000 campuses around the United States.
Ryan Gregg, president-elect for the UNM Staff Council, said he does not believe staff members begrudge the police raises because they want UNM to retain existing officers who understand the campus safety issues and are engaged with its community.
“We see it as some other staff members getting a much-deserved increase,” Gregg said. “(But) we wish the rest of us could see that as well.”
Instead, most university employees got a 1 percent increase, the first across-the-board raise in four years.
Faculty Senate President Pamela Pyle called the disparity in raises “mind-boggling.” She said UNM police are “no doubt” undercompensated, but so are faculty members and other staffers.
“When one group receives a disproportionate raise, it ends up pitting folks against each other and creating disillusionment,” she said in a written statement.