Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
The competition to land police officers in New Mexico’s largest city is heating up.
Seven Rio Rancho police officers earlier this month announced their resignations and all are expected to join the Albuquerque Police Department.
Rio Rancho police administrators met after the resignations to see if any scheduling changes will be needed after the departures, Capt. Andrew Rodriguez told the Journal.
Including the seven officers who recently resigned, 11 Rio Rancho officers already have left or plan to leave the department and join the ranks of Albuquerque police. Eight of those officers have either graduated or are currently seated in an Albuquerque police academy.
“We’re asking that the community not be concerned at this point,” Rodriguez said. “We’re doing the best we can to ensure we can respond to every call that we normally do.”
The Rio Rancho Police Department is authorized for 135 officers and there are currently 11 vacancies, Rodriguez said. He said those vacancies don’t include the officers who recently announced their resignations because many are still working for the department.
Their resignations, Rodriguez said, are likely due to money. Rio Rancho officers start at about $20.30 an hour. Albuquerque police officers’ starting pay is $29 an hour.
APD is in the middle of an aggressive recruiting push to grow the size of the department, and the city has increased salary and bonus pay for officers.
Albuquerque has struggled to staff its police department in recent years. APD is authorized for more than 1,000 officers, but their numbers have dwindled to around 850 in recent months.
The department is projecting that it will have about 980 officers by next summer. It is growing the ranks by bringing in both new cadets and lateral hires from other departments.
Last month, Albuquerque police graduated a lateral academy with 29 officers. Another lateral academy with about 30 officers is expecting to graduate in December, Gilbert Gallegos, a police spokesman, said in a prepared statement. In the current lateral academy class, six officers are from Rio Rancho and six are from Santa Fe police, among other agencies.
Rio Rancho appears to be one of the first departments to feel the hit of Albuquerque’s efforts to grow the force.
Mayor Tim Keller said last month that while he has heard some concerns from nearby local governments about Albuquerque taking officers from other departments, fixing Albuquerque’s crime problem is his main priority. He said in the future he may consider capping the number of officers Albuquerque can hire from any one department.
As Albuquerque has struggled to staff its police department, the city has seen its crime rates increase. In 2017, Albuquerque had some of the highest crimes rates in the country for its size.
“Our top priority at APD is to do everything possible to keep our communities safe. Unfortunately, we inherited a department that was chronically understaffed, which forced us to invest resources in rebuilding the department. We developed a comprehensive plan to train new cadets, recruit qualified officers from other agencies, and retain our most experienced officers,” Gallegos said in a statement.
He also pointed out that Albuquerque worked with Central New Mexico Community College to create a satellite academy that will train officers, which in time will help other agencies grow.
Rio Rancho, meanwhile, is also trying to recruit additional officers. The city last month announced that officers from other departments can get credit for up to 10 years of experience they have had with other law enforcement agencies. In the past, lateral hires got credit for only half of their previous work experience.
That work experience positively affects an officer’s pay.
“Rio Rancho is an outstanding city to work in and its police officers are supported by community members,” Police Chief Stewart Steele said in a prepared statement announcing the policy change. “We are hopeful that with policy changes and additional incentives, more officers will call Rio Rancho’s Police Department home and work alongside us to help keep Rio Rancho one of the best and safest cities.”