Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Police Chief Gorden Eden is planning a major reorganization that would move more than 80 officers from Downtown’s central office into Albuquerque’s neighborhoods.
He plans to begin increasing the staffing levels in APD’s six “area commands” – the field operations that work with neighborhood leaders throughout the city.
The moves could start early next year.
“The best way for us to serve our community is to be in it,” Eden said Monday in a meeting with Journal editors and reporters.
He has developed a plan – he calls it Police and Community Together, or PACT – based on recommendations in a staffing study undertaken by a national consultant, Alexander Weiss. The analysis, released Monday, is part of the effort to reform APD after a federal investigation last year described a “culture of aggression” in the department.
A settlement agreement in the case required the city to study its staffing levels and develop a plan in response to the findings.
Eden said what he’s proposing would be the first major realignment of the Police Department in years.
One of the keys is sending 14 officers to each of the six area commands.
At least one “neighborhood policing team” – consisting of a sergeant and six officers – would move to each area command.
The realignment also would push more detectives and specialists with expertise in such areas as narcotics, gangs, burglaries and auto theft into the area commands, rather than in centralized Downtown offices. They would work with neighborhood residents to develop specialized plans to address their specific concerns.
The goal is renew APD’s commitment to community policing, Eden said.
“The only way I can do this is I have to have more officers in the field,” he said.
Officers would commit to spending three years in an area command, reducing the annual turnover that now frustrates neighborhood leaders, Eden said.
Consistent staffing will help “really forge relationships,” he said.
All told, about 75 percent of APD’s officers would be working in neighborhoods, up from about 65 percent now, Eden estimated.
Much of the realignment could happen in early 2016 when officers bid for shifts for the coming year.
Eden has authority to carry out some changes on his own. For example, if APD gets rid of a unit to create positions in the field offices, members of that unit would then bid on other positions. Other changes may require negotiations with the police union.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Eden will work with the U.S. Department of Justice and police union to further refine the staffing plan.
Eden also wants the realignment to simplify APD’s command structure and reduce boundaries within the agency that interfere with efficient operations.
He envisions flattening the department’s leadership structure a bit. There would be more front-line supervisors – sergeants and lieutenants – and a trimming of at least two top executives. The two deputy chief positions would disappear through attrition.
The department would grow to 1,000 officers – an increase of 20 percent – matching the recommendation Weiss made in the staffing study.
The city budgets for 1,000 officers, though it hasn’t had that many on the payroll in years.
Mayor Richard Berry said he believes the city can reach that target within two years if the Legislature approves changes to the state pension plan to encourage retired officers to return to work.
That idea has failed in past sessions, with opponents fearing it would damage the financial health of pension funds. Berry insists that’s not the case.
The mayor said getting help from the state Legislature is better than other options – such as offering bonuses for officers willing to transfer in from other departments, a move that could deplete the police force in smaller cities.
“If there were an easy solution,” Berry said, “we’d have done it already.”
As part of the staffing increase, Eden said he would like to expand the traffic unit from about nine officers to 40 – matching another recommendation from Weiss.
He also would like to have volunteers or other APD staff working out of substations.
And he is considering the recommendation in the staffing report to change officers’ eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts for more efficiency, an idea he will discuss with the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.