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Big Incentive

By T.J. Wilham
Copyright 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    Being a cop in Albuquerque could become far more lucrative. City officials say they need more police officers, so they are offering what the mayor is calling the biggest raise in city history.
    On top of that, it is offering hundreds of hours of vacation and sick leave, thousands of dollars for housing, student loan relief and thousands more in retention bonuses.
    If the police union approves the proposed contract today, it will give an entry-level patrolman a 47 percent raise over the next three years.
    Front-line cops with less than four years' experience will make $48,152 a year, starting July 1— not counting overtime. That would jump to $58,240 in 2010.
    Current starting pay for officers is $39,520.
    "This is the largest pay increase in the history of Albuquerque," Mayor Martin Chávez said Thursday.
    "This package shows our commitment to public safety," Chávez said.
Aiming for goal
    It will also require some number crunching as the city struggles with the slowing economy and prepares for a previously approved sales tax cut. A recent budget forecast projected expenditures would exceed revenues by roughly $50 million next year if no budget adjustments were made.
    "This is the type of raise you give when you are rolling in the dough, not when you are hurting for money," the mayor said.
    But he said the proposed raises are justified by the difficulty of recruiting police officers. Police officials twice failed to meet Chávez's goal of maintaining a force of 1,100 officers. The deadline for meeting that goal has been extended to December. As of Thursday, APD had 969 officers.
    The total pay package will cost the city an additional $17.8 million over the next three years.
    Chávez said he would submit a balanced budget without making any cuts.
    Among the incentives:
  • Annual retention bonuses of $5,000 for officers and sergeants with 18 years' experience; $10,000 for 19 years; $12,500 for 20 years and $15,000 a year for 21 years or more.
  • APD will give officers $7,500 toward a new home if they sign a seven-year commitment.
  • Help with paying student loans.
  • Officers who transfer from other departments will get 100 hours of vacation and 100 hours of sick time once they complete the academy on top of what they would normally accrue.
        "This package will go a long way to us getting our 1,100," Police Chief Ray Schultz said. "This package will get the right people through our door. I don't think we can reach our goal without it."
    Union voting
        The contract went to the Albuquerque Police Officers' Association late Thursday. Officers will vote on it until 7 tonight.
        Earlier this week, Chávez and the city's firefighters' union announced they had reached an agreement on a contract that gives firefighters 5 percent raises in each of the next two years, followed by a 6 percent raise in the third year.
        APD officials have said they cannot fill their ranks because the demand for officers in the Southwest is high and there are too few qualified applicants.
        According to a Journal survey published in November, of 20 police agencies in the Southwest, APD salaries ranked in the lower half.
        The survey included cities like Denver, Phoenix, Tucson, Colorado Springs and El Paso, as well as 12 agencies within New Mexico.
        Albuquerque ranked 13th in salary for police officers who complete their probationary periods, 15th for officers with 10 years' experience and 15th when comparing percent of pay above median household income.
        The new contract would put APD in third place based on the figures collected for the survey, behind only Aurora, Colo., and Colorado Springs.
        It would be more than officers in any other police agency in the state that was included in the survey.
        Despite the large increases, there was a movement from veteran officers late Thursday to vote down the contract. Those officers say raises for more experienced cops were not as good as the raises for the younger officers because the contract eliminates longevity pay after the second year. Under the current contract, APD pays an extra $1,040 to $10,660 in longevity pay.
        As a result, a patrolman with 10 years' experience would get a 4.8 percent raise next year.
        APOA President Ron Olivas wouldn't comment on the movement to vote down the contract. He did say the APOA's board thought the contract was good enough to send to the membership.
        "Ultimately, this is the membership's vote," he said. "Our negotiating team worked hard to get the best package for our membership."
        Hourly Annual % Raise
        Officers 1* $23.15 $48,152 21.8%
        Officers 2 $24.80 $51,584 17.7%
        Sergeants $28.80 $59,904 12.5%
        Lieutenants $33.40 $69,472 11.6%
        Hourly Annual # Officers
        Officers 1* $19.00 $39,520 456
        Officers 2 $21.07 $43,825 377
        Sergeants $25.60 $53,248 107
        Lieutenants $29.93 $62,254 33