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Staffing for APD won’t be as bleak as forecast

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The just-released final staffing plan for Albuquerque police is more optimistic than an earlier draft and predicts the department will hit the 1,000-officer mark by 2020 – or sooner.

The plan, which was prepared by APD, changed from an earlier draft that predicted the department would be understaffed for the next 10 to 15 years. Police officials blamed mathematical errors for the bleak staffing outlook in the earlier draft.

The final plan also suggests the department consider several policy changes to free up more officers to focus on crime – for example, changing the way police respond to car wrecks and burglar alarms that haven’t been confirmed.

Chief Gorden Eden said those are among the changes being considered to deal with the staffing shortage, but said nothing is set in stone.

“I think the community would agree that our priority should be the (most serious) calls where lives are in immediate danger,” he said.

Albuquerque police officials said they desperately need more officers to bolster ranks that have been declining for several years. There are currently about 850 sworn officers despite the department being authorized for 1,000. There were nearly 1,100 officers on the force in 2009.

The response times to the most serious calls for service have increased as the 911 calls have increased and the number of officers has dropped, according to city documents.

The staffing plan predicts APD will graduate 100 cadets from police academies each year for several consecutive years. It also says lateral hires from other police departments, return to work legislation that would allow retired officers to return to policing and a better incentive package could allow the force to rebound and be fully staffed as early as next year.

The department is expecting that between 13 and 55 officers will retire every year from 2016 through 2021 and another 25 officers will leave for other reasons, according to the study.

The previous draft predicted APD would graduate only 80 cadets per year and didn’t account for the other methods the department could use to grow the ranks. That plan said the department wouldn’t consistently have 1,000 officers until 2026 to 2031.

While return to work, lateral hires and more money for incentives aren’t in place yet, they could lead to a quick turnaround in the size of the force.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to reach 1,000 officers next year if we get some these incentive packages going,” said Bill Slauson, executive director of the police department’s administrative support bureau.

The goal of 100 police academy graduates exceeds the number of officers that have graduated from Albuquerque police’s academy in recent years, he said, but the department could graduate as many as 99 cadets this year and police officials think they can have similar success in the future.

Also, Eden said he’s been in discussion with police chiefs and sheriffs from around the state and will make a renewed attempt at getting the Legislature to pass return to work legislation. A return to work proposal died in the state Senate during the most recent session.

APOA criticism

Shaun Willoughby, the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said 100 police academy graduates each year isn’t realistic.

The union had several other objections to the study, which were included in the final report. The union said the plan would violate the collective bargaining agreement between the city and police officers and that shifting detectives to other work could increase crime.

The staffing study was done as part of a settlement agreement between the city of Albuquerque and the Department of Justice that aims to correct a pattern of excessive force within Albuquerque police.

About two-thirds of Albuquerque police officers work in the Field Services Bureau, or patrol, but over the next several years police officials plan to shuffle officers from other positions, like property crimes investigators, into field services.

Willoughby said that while he thinks the city needs more patrol officers, detectives already are overworked. He said sending detectives to patrol will cause cases those detectives handle – such as property crimes – to increase.

“They’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said of the staffing study. “Albuquerque is already in crisis and (the police administration) is adding insult to injury by letting this plan go forward.”

Eden said restructuring the detectives wouldn’t have a negative effect on crime. He said the changes would lead to better communication within the department.

“They (property crimes detectives) are going to (field services) to investigate property crimes,” he said. “It’s a redeployment of resources.”