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Survey: APD officers are ‘down in the dumps’

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque police officers aren’t happy – but they haven’t been for a while.

The Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association released the results of its annual “State of Policing Survey” on Thursday, which shows that morale is at its lowest point in the past few years.

Sent out in a department-wide email, 433 out of 965 officers participated this month.

The survey found 80% of APD officers who responded have considered a new line of work in the past couple of months. Of those, 84% said it was due to the “current view on policing, the increased scrutiny on officers, new reform efforts and job insecurity.”

Shaun Willoughby

“I think the biggest takeaway is that – for this community – your police officers that are out there right now, every single day, trying to keep you safe, they’re down in the dumps. Their morale is as low as I’ve seen it and they need support,” police union president Shaun Willoughby told the Journal.

The survey also found that 62% of officers do not feel supported by Police Chief Michael Geier, 96% do not feel supported by the City Council and 83% do not feel supported by Mayor Tim Keller.

And 88% are concerned about losing “qualified immunity” – meaning they would be personally liable for anyone they injured or killed on the job.

“Albuquerque’s officers have been through a lot during the pandemic, keeping people safe during two dozen protests and dealing with public criticism that is part of a national debate over policing,” APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in a statement.

“Obviously, we are concerned, and APD’s leadership is working to ensure officers and their families are protected against the COVID virus. The department also stepped up efforts to support officers and address mental health resources for officers who want help.”

But Gallegos criticized the survey, saying it is “tailored to achieve a preconceived goal, so it’s not surprising that every few years the union’s president paints the city and the police department in the worst possible light.”

Low morale among APD officers isn’t new. An APOA survey in 2018 found that 70% of officers considered a career change; in 2019, the number was just below 60%. Both of those surveys saw officers criticizing the low pay, understaffed department and officer scrutiny as reasons.

Willoughby attributed the small uptick in 2019 to the City Council and Keller, who “put their money where their mouth is” and gave APD their first contract in several years.

He believes the most recent dip comes from the national and local sentiments that have pushed movements to defund the police and floated ideas of civilians responding to police calls.

An even bigger concern about losing experienced officers is a lack of recruitment incentives, Willoughby said. The survey found 68% of officers said it was “unlikely or very unlikely” that they would recommend police work as a career choice to others.

“What young millennial – with a computer that knows how to operate Google – wants to be a police officer right now? That’s the real concern,” he said.

Unlike previous surveys, this year the APOA surveyed 405 community members on their outlooks on local policing, crime and public safety.

Of those, 67% believed crime was getting worse and 83% wanted more officers to make the street safer, but only 11% believed “not enough officers” was a contributing factor to crime in Albuquerque.

Willoughby said local leaders need the “honest criticism” and to reflect on the findings.

City Council President Pat Davis, a former police officer, noted that APD has been given significant raises in the past several years and are the highest paid officers in the region.

“I don’t think they have a tall box to stand on when making demands,” he said.

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