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Bonuses for APD brass draw fire

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

About a dozen of Albuquerque’s top police executives are in line for retention pay of $12,000 a year – troubling city councilors who say the new program was designed to keep frontline officers on the streets.

Police Chief Gorden Eden was among those expected to get the pay, but he has decided to opt out of the program, a spokesman said.

A spreadsheet provided to Albuquerque city councilors this week shows about $1 million in annual retention pay requested for 108 officers, including Eden. The incentive is aimed at keeping officers from retiring.

Five of Eden’s top staffers – deputy chiefs and the like – are in line for the retention pay, on top of base salaries that exceed $100,000 a year. Eleven commanders, who make about $92,000, also requested the bonus.

Seventeen lieutenants, 55 police officers first class, one open-space ranger and 18 sergeants also requested the money.

The legislation adopted by city councilors last month didn’t specify any exceptions to who was eligible for the extra cash, as long as the person had enough service time to be near retirement, with a satisfactory performance review.

The sponsor of the final legislation, Republican Trudy Jones, didn’t return a call seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican who strongly backed the legislation, referred questions to APD.

Several councilors said the goal was to persuade frontline officers to stay on the job, not boost pay for police executives.

“I’m appalled and extremely disappointed,” City Councilor Ken Sanchez, a Democrat, said in an interview after reviewing the spreadsheet.

Council President Rey Garduño, also a Democrat, said he supported the incentive pay with field officers in mind.

“I don’t think we need to grow the ranks or entice people at the upper echelon,” he said. “Those folks get paid well and have a job that’s not as dangerous as those folks out in the field.”

Police spokesman Tanner Tixier said longevity pay for Albuquerque’s highest-ranking officers is justified.

“The administration understands that the stability of APD, whether within the rank and file or inside the leadership, is critical to organizational success and stability,” Tixier said in a written statement.

Longevity pay, he said, “must be applied equally and it has been.”

Stephanie Lopez, president of the police union, said she didn’t realize APD’s top handful of executives could get money under the program, though she understood that commanders would be eligible.

“We didn’t want to cheat anybody out of the opportunity to receive it. … We support any officer who’s eligible to receive this, no matter what their rank or rate of pay is, at the end of the day,” Lopez said.

The departure of top executives, she said, could affect frontline staffing because officers in the field would move up to fill those vacancies.

In November, the City Council unanimously approved money to start the retention program, which was expected to cost about $1.5 million a year. The legislation itself had few details.

The city administration told councilors that officers approaching 20 years of service – the typical threshold for retirement eligibility – would receive retention pay that added either $6,000 or $12,000 to their annual compensation, depending on the officers’ time in law enforcement. The money would show up in their regular paycheck every two weeks.

Council action came after members heard APD’s ranks could fall to a 25-year low if current retirement and recruitment trends held.

The city budgets for 1,000 officers, though only about 900 are actually on the force. That’s down from about 4½ years ago, when APD employed about 1,100 officers.

Councilor Diane Gibson, a Democrat, said the city acted too quickly despite her request for more time. Her intent, she said, was to help officers in the field.

But “it was written in the broadest terms,” she said. “There were no exceptions.”

Councilor Isaac Benton, a Democrat, suggested the council bears some responsibility.

“I don’t think we put any restrictions on that,” he said, which “may have been a mistake.”

City Councilor Dan Lewis, a Republican, said the incentive pay for top executives is “concerning.”

“We didn’t put those kind of restrictions in it,” he said, “but clearly the intent of that bonus was to help us put more officers on the street longer, responding to calls.”

The Journal wasn’t immediately able to reach the remaining councilors: Republicans Brad Winter and Don Harris and Democrat Klarissa Peña.

Tixier said the pay is particularly important for the department “as it’s going through organizational transformation.”

Albuquerque’s police force is undergoing reforms mandated by a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Federal investigators said this spring that APD had a pattern or practice of violating people’s rights through the use of force.

Berry hired Eden as chief in February. Eden draws a base pay of about $163,000. He has 25 years of government service, which would make him eligible for the larger bonus, of $12,000, according to the spreadsheet sent to councilors.

Tixier said Eden has notified the city’s Human Resources Department that he doesn’t want to receive the money.

Eden’s assistant chief, Robert Huntsman, makes about $115,000 a year, with 20 years of service. The department’s two deputy chiefs, William Roseman and Eric Garcia, make about $113,000 each, with 20 and 24 years of service. All three have requested the $12,000 in incentive pay, according to the council spreadsheet.

APD’s two majors, Timothy Gonterman and Anthony Montaño, make about $103,000 in base pay. Gonterman, with 18 years of service, requested $6,000 in retention pay, and Montaño, with 25 years, requested $12,000.

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