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Editorial: City, union must work to get, keep police officers

The violent Labor Day weekend should be a wake-up call for city officials that we need more cops on the street and the Albuquerque police union that it’s not going to get any easier to keep the officers we do have without some sort of carrot on a stick.

That will take better results than we’ve seen from the city and the Albuquerque Police Officers Association pulling together a new contract so rank-and-file officers can receive retention pay in some form to stick around and risk their lives every day to keep the public safe.

Over the Labor Day weekend, APD officers responded to about 3,400 calls. Detectives were handed three homicide investigations in a 24-hour period. Four people died and at least two were seriously wounded in various incidents, including a possible home invasion and a suspicious death police believe may have been a suicide.

APD has struggled for years with a declining police force that is authorized for 1,000 sworn officers but currently stands around 850 – and now it is beginning a multi-year reform process after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found a pattern of violating people’s civil rights by excessive use of force. APD has revamped its recruiting efforts, and its new cadet class has 41 members compared to the 17 who will graduate in October.

Those efforts are vital, as morale is said to be low and some officers are opting to leave or retire if they can. Retention bonuses ended in July for the rank and file with the expiration of the union contract.

However, APD’s commanders (who are not in the bargaining unit) have continued to receive incentive pay ranging from $6,000 to $12,000 a year for those approaching retirement but willing to stay on. Lower-ranked officers may resent that but, ultimately, it is up to the union brass to find a contract fix that distributes the money available.

City Councilors Diane Gibson and Dan Lewis say bonuses for the bosses isn’t fair, but Councilor Ken Sanchez has the correct, big-picture view. He says APD leaders deserve the pay and are needed now because “our city is in crisis.”

When the city is inundated with more than 3,000 calls over a three-day weekend, it has indeed reached a crisis state that will affect response times, public safety and officer burnout. Experienced officers of all ranks are needed now.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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