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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
City officials don’t see anything wrong with that, even though city government picks up the tab for their commutes.
A big factor is recruiting – the subsidized commutes of up to 60 miles each way are said to help attract and keep officers.
According to data provided by the city under a public records request, only 39 officers, or 27% of the 144 officers working in the police department as of last week, live inside the city limits.
Half of Santa Fe’s staffed police positions, or 72, are held by officers with homes in Santa Fe County.
Fifty-four officers – 37.5% of the force – live in Sandoval or Bernalillo counties. More specifically, 34 officers in the department live in Rio Rancho, according to data released by the city. That includes Police Chief Andrew Padilla, who recently moved there.
Strong recruiting efforts and pay incentives offered by the Albuquerque Police Department have taken some officers from SFPD. The Santa Fe department now has 29 vacancies – a 17% vacancy rate.
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber says that he’s doesn’t think having so many officers living outside Santa Fe has an effect on public safety and that he doesn’t see a relationship between residency and job performance.
“I would love to see more data on that,” Webber said. “I have yet to see anything that convinces me one way or the other.”
Santa Fe Police Officers Association President Tony Trujillo agrees and says the only good thing about more officers living in Santa Fe is seeing more patrol cars parked in neighborhoods.
“I have yet to have anybody give me a reason why that would be beneficial,” Trujillo said of more officers living in the city. “I haven’t heard a valid reason why officers should live here.”
Under the police union contract, officers hired before April 12, 2012, are allowed to take department vehicles up to 60 “roadway miles” from city limits for commutes.
Officers hired after 2012 are allowed to take their cars up to 45 miles from the city. That rule was set in 2014, when the City Council overturned a short-lived 15-mile limit for subsidized commutes by new hires. Then-Mayor Javier Gonzales cast the deciding vote in a 5-4 vote on the issue.
Matt Martinez, then president of the police union, said at the time that it was difficult to attract police officers to Santa Fe because they can’t afford to buy a house or eat at local restaurants that charge “$30 a plate.”
He also said officers don’t want to live in the same town where they arrest people. “We’re trying to get people to live in Santa Fe, but nobody wants to do it,” he said.
Trujillo, a veteran detective, said last week that the commuting rules were put into place to help recruit officers and that they’ve been effective, even though the department has a lot of vacancies.
Trujillo said he prefers to live in Albuquerque and did so even before there was a mileage allowance.
“I’ve lived there a number of years,” Trujillo said. “I just prefer the location.”
Trujillo said officers, like any other city employee, have the right to live anywhere.
“Our officers choose to live in Rio Rancho,” Trujillo said.
Chief Padilla declined to comment for this article.
Similar to what others have said in the past in defense of officers living out of town, Webber said officers don’t want to run into people they arrest.
“Many people feel more secure if they (officers) live in the city,” Webber said. “On the other hand, officers have misgivings about living in the area they patrol. They’ve had people come back and say they know where they live and where their families live.”
Webber says high housing prices in Santa Fe drive people away. Webber pushed for police pay raises implemented this year, but pay for officers in their first few years of employment is still less than what APD officers make in their first few years.
“The challenge in our case is the cost of living in Santa Fe,” Webber said. “We need to address that by addressing police pay, which we have, and increasing housing in all parts of the city.”
Apparently, the last time the city examined the issue of police commutes closely was in 2010, when it was determined that officers were commuting 1.3 million miles annually on the taxpayers’ dime.
The city established the 60-mile allowable radius for commuting in police cars as a hiring incentive in 2003.
Before that, officers were allowed to take the patrol cars to and from work in part as a neighborhood security measure, with the idea that police cars parked in Santa Fe neighborhoods would help prevent crime.