SANTA FE – Too much to do and too few people to do it.
That’s one of the big takeaways from an assessment of the personnel and staffing needs of the Santa Fe Police Department that the city hired the National Police Foundation to conduct.
Littered throughout the 34-page report are references to staffing shortages and the repercussions of running a department that’s budgeted for 173 sworn police officers, but is functioning with 141, an 18% shortage.
In addition, SFPD is budgeted for 58 civilian staffers but only has 43, a vacancy rate of 26%. “A review of the most current organizational chart reveals that the staffing shortage affects every division, section, and unit within the agency, as virtually every unit is documenting vacancies,” the report says. “As police staffing decreases, unmet demands and workloads increase.”
The report also says, “The inability to fill vacant positions due to staffing shortages forces these units to perpetually work shorthanded,” and that, “Virtually every supervisor/manager interviewed said their most prominent grievance was managing their responsibilities with less manpower.”
The Police Foundation made two visits to Santa Fe to interview officers, detectives, civilian staff, and city officials.
The staffing shortage has led to more overtime for officers, offering voluntary overtime to officers and an increase in the use of sick time. “As a result, officers assigned to administrative tasks are sometimes required to fill open patrol shifts,” it says.
The root of the problem is recruitment and retention of personnel. Since 2014, SFPD has lost more police officers than it has hired. In 2018, SFPD lost 38 officers and hired 27.
Successful recruitment efforts by the Albuquerque Police Department are partially to blame, Mayor Alan Webber said at a Friday news conference. APD’s recent recruitment efforts have included hiring bonuses, and 13 Santa Fe cops have left to join the Duke City’s police force, according to the report.
APD starts officers off paying officers $29 per hour, while a rookie SFPD cop was paid about $20 per hour before a recently negotiated contract between the city and police union upped that to $22 per hour. “The city has already taken the first step by increasing police officer pay,” Webber said. “Pay is the right thing to focus on. It’s the first step.”
Improvements to SFPD’s recruitment website is another short-term effort by the city to attract more officers, he said.
The mayor said that he didn’t consider the police shortage a crisis, but that “we have a steady need to do a better job.”
Exacerbating the problem, the report says, the city’s recruiting officer doesn’t have time to recruit. It says the recruiting officer assigned to the administrative section “does not have time to execute recruitment duties because the vast majority of time is consumed with conducting background checks for new hires.”
The effects of the personnel shortage has been compounded by annexation in 2010, which increased the city’s geographical area by 30% and its population by 23%.
The report indicates that the impact of the staffing shortage on policing the city is significant. As a result, the department has become more reactive and less proactive, according to the report.
Last year, the department responded to more calls for service than self-initiated activities for the first time in five years.
“Additionally, with more time and less manpower devoted to handling calls for service, officers are having difficulty finding time for individualized interaction with the community, therefore lessening opportunities to build positive community contacts and relationships,” the report says.
The report cites other impacts the shortage has on the ability for officers to solve crimes, among them that the department employs just one crime analyst.
“An officer may request information from the Crime Analyst, but the majority of those interviewed from different shifts reported they do not have regular access to current crime patterns or trends, or criminal suspects operating within their ares of responsibility other than what is passed on verbally from officer to officer,” it says.
The report highlighted some of the things SFPD does right.
“The SFPD has a reputation for being a progressive department that selects excellent recruits and provides regular, high-standard training and top-notch equipment to the rank-and-file personnel,” it says, also adding that the department has a positive relationship with the police union.
Chief Andrew Padilla said that the information contained in the report, the first assessment ever done of the department that he knew of, can be used to improve operations.
“We all want to learn,” he said.