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8-hour days good for cops, chief says

SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael went before the city Public Safety Committee Tuesday touting the successes of a controversial two-year-old shift change for police.

But the police union is still dissatisfied with a schedule that has officers working eight hours a day for five days a week, claiming the change from a four-day, 10-hour schedule hurts recruitment efforts, causes fatigue among the ranks and hurts an officer’s quality of life.

Rael said the shift change resulted in an 11 percent savings, or about $106,000, on overtime costs in the first fiscal year after the program was implemented. Overtime for the following year increased by about 2 percent, still a savings of $90,577 from two fiscal years ago.

Rael told the committee that there would have been more savings this year, but some of that money was allocated to property crime patrols, which he said have been making an impact on burglaries and similar crimes.

“To go back to a ‘4-10’ plan would destroy our ability to address the burglary issue,” Rael said.

The shift change allows the department to field nearly 30 percent more officers during a 24-hour period, establishes overlap periods during hours when the department receives more calls and makes it possible to focus more attention on property crimes in the city, according to the department’s report on the issue.

It states that the data “clearly shows that the department has become more efficient and effective in the use of available manpower, the expenditure of fiscal resources and in our ability to focus on burglary prevention and the apprehension of the perpetrators of property crimes.”

Santa Fe Police Officers Association president Adam Gallegos said the union pushed for a return to the “4-10” schedule as recently as this month during contract negotiations, but the city turned down the request.

“We went to an impasse,” he said. “That’s why the chief is coming out with this (memo regarding the shift change) now.”

He said Rael asked for union support of a proposed $3 million recruitment and retention plan to bring more officers to the department. That plan would give cadets a raise from $19.11 to $20.54 per hour, or 50 cents more than the pay for Albuquerque police cadets, and other raises up through the ranks. Help with housing and paying student fees for officers are other proposals that the City Council could consider.

Gallegos said it would be “silly” for the union to oppose the plan, but he questioned why the administration was opposed to the 4-10 schedule, which costs much less by comparison.

Councilor Chris Rivera said at the committee meeting that he was skeptical that the shift change was helping. “I’m not sure it’s done anything else but bring down morale,” he said.

Gallegos said officers have commitments outside of their normal shifts to things like training and court appearances. He said the 4-10 shift gave officers at least one day off. He said the recruitment plan should include a return to the 4-10 shift and an increase in the miles officers can drive take-home vehicles.

The proposal does not include either of these items, according to department spokeswoman Celina Westervelt.

The plan calls for recruiting strategies such as assistance with relocation, school loans and housing down payments. Rael said the department will ask the city to fund 24 more positions within three years, related to the city’s annexation of sections of the county starting in 2014.