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Police Vote In Favor of Contract

By T.J. Wilham
Copyright 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    The police union narrowly passed a contract late Friday that will give Albuquerque police officers what the mayor has called the biggest raise in city history.
    The Albuquerque Police Officers' Association voted 366-307 to approve a three-year contract that will give young officers a 47 percent raise over the next year, as well as a host of incentives to get them to stay.
    Officers in the middle of their careers, who didn't fare as well under the contract, launched a campaign to kill it.
    Police officials said arguments had erupted at voting stations between younger and older officers. Some of the younger officers had complained that they felt "intimidated" by the older officers.
    The contract— which will cost the city $17.8 million over the next three years— will be included in the city budget Mayor Martin Chávez will submit to the City Council on April 1.
    The contract is now binding, contingent on the City Council's funding it through the budget.
    APD has been in a recruiting crisis for the past three years. It has twice failed to meet Mayor Martin Chávez's goal of 1,100 officers. The deadline has been extended to December. As of this week, APD had 969 officers.
    The contract is designed to bring in recruits. It gives raises to newer officers and gives small raises to officers in the middle of their careers. It also rewards officers who have 18 years or more experience.
    Under the contract, an entry-level patrolman will get a 21 percent raise come July.
    Other incentives include retention bonuses, money toward homes and student loans, and vacation time for officers who transfer into the department.
    But the contract eliminates longevity pay, which pays officers between $1,040 and $10,660 extra when they reach four years of service. That angered veteran officers, who would get a very small raise in the first two years of the contract.
    Sergeants with 10 years of experience will get a pay hike of six-tenths of a percent the first year and actually lose pay between the second and third years.
    Over the course of the three-year contract, however, their pay increases by 6 percent.
    Many veteran officers e-mailed the Journal voicing their displeasure with the contract.
    One sergeant with 15 years experience wrote: "We all know that the city wants to get more officers on the street. However, I think this (contract) speaks volumes about how they treat their veteran officers. We have spent years battling low pay and low manpower. Our reward for sticking in and not leaving for another department is (a 1 percent) raise per year."
    Members of the union were able to vote during a 24-hour period Thursday and Friday at several stations set up across the city. About 150 officers showed up to vote at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge on Jefferson. Reaction was mixed.
    For Adam Anaya, the decision to vote for the contract was a difficult one. Anaya said he wished he had more time to read the contract before voting. Officers were informed about the contract Thursday night, moments before voting opened. No copies of the contract were made available.
    Anaya showed up at the FOP after an award ceremony during which he was recognized with the department's distinguished service award for his role in defusing a hostage situation.
    His 5-year-old daughter accompanied him.
    "My extra money is going to private school," he said while looking down at his daughter. "It seems like a good deal. I just wish I would have had more information about it."
    The contract comes as the local economy has struggled.
    A recent city budget forecast projected that expenditures will exceed revenues by roughly $50 million next year if no budget adjustments are made.
    According to data provided by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, Bernalillo County residents on average saw a 3.8 percent increase in pay between the third quarter of 2006 and the third quarter of 2007.
    City leaders have yet to explain how they are going to pay for the contract.