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New police contract provides needed pay raises

Santa Fe police officers, like those shown here investigating after the Rail Runner train struck a bicyclist who pulled in front of it, will receive raises under a new contract ratified by the police union. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

It’s good for Santa Fe that the local police union and city government negotiators have reached agreement on a new contract that gives officers some significant pay raises. The City Council is expected to soon complete the deal with its own vote in favor of the new compensation package.

Santa Fe and other New Mexico cities have been fighting off efforts by Albuquerque to recruit their officers. That inspired Santa Fe City Hall to earlier this year offer $6,000 retention bonuses to police officers who agreed to stayed with the Santa Fe Police Department pending negotiation of the new contract whose details were announced last week.

The contract adds 30% bump-ups in officer pay for the first four years of service (to $45,760 annually the first two years, and $52,000 the third and fourth) and 11% raises for officers with five or more years with the SFPD.

Santa Fe is still behind Albuquerque on beginning salaries but, with the new contract, catches up with the bigger city’s pay scale at the five-year mark.

The raises and annual salary rates are entirely reasonable and, as both sides now say, overdue. The new contract puts police pay in line with recommendations of a study comparing Santa Fe city employee pay with other cities, according to Mayor Alan Webber. The union’s leadership is right to say that in the future, city government shouldn’t let pay stagnate for the people charged with maintaining public safety in Santa Fe.

There are still parts of the police compensation system that need review, although it would take some pretty gutsy City Councilors to take such a mission on.

Santa Fe taxpayers continue to promote the housing market in Rio Rancho and other locales located within an hour’s drive by paying for gas and patrol car maintenance to allow officers to use the police vehicles for long daily commutes. The initial reasons for having officers take their patrol cars home – promoting safety in neighborhoods where officers live and having the cars handy for quick responses in emergencies – have been discarded.

The police cars now are just, plain and simple, a job perk that encourages police officers to move away from the city they’re sworn to serve and protect, a job benefit not afforded to other crucial public employees like teachers. There was some movement a few years ago to phase in a tighter commuting policy, with reduced mileage limits, but the City Hall leadership wimped out.

The cost of police overtime is also an issue, one that’s been exacerbated by SFPD vacancies that the new contract, with its more attractive pay scale, might help to fill. But the city also should reconsider former Police Chief Ray Rael’s policy that got rid of four-day, 10-hours-a-day work weeks for the police in favor a traditional five-day, eight-hours-per-day schedule. The change did in fact reduce overtime, but City Hall caved again, after Rael moved on.

OK, now may not be time to focus on the negative. Santa Fe officers have a new pay scale that’s closer to what they deserve for the jobs they do, and the rancor that surfaces from time to time between the police rank and file and the city administration has been tamped down.

That’s all good, and congratulations are in order for the Webber administration.