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Manpower at APD Debated

By T.J. Wilham
Journal Staff Writer
    When compared to other cities in the Southwest, the Albuquerque Police Department's manpower is right in line, if not better.
    But that doesn't necessarily mean Albuquerque has the right number of officers.
    The mayor, one of his opponents in this year's election and the Albuquerque Police Officer's Association all have weighed in on the question of how many officers are enough.
    For example:
   
  • When elected, Mayor Martin Chávez promised to increase the department's manpower to 1,000 officers. He has extended that promise to 1,100. As of Tuesday, the department had 993 officers, up from 857 when Chavez first took office.
       
  • Mayoral candidate Brad Winter contends that most of the new officers the mayor has hired are behind desks and not on the streets.
       
  • APOA President Pete Dwyer has been critical of Chávez, claiming there are not enough officers on the streets and that calls have backed up.
        How many officers are actually on the streets depends on how you define "front-line officers."
        As of Tuesday, 475 officers were assigned to the department's area commands, according to APD statistics. They do not hold any rank, and their primary job is to answer calls for service.
        This number does not include 84 officers without rank assigned to specialized units such as open space police, traffic and K9, all of whom do take calls for service in their fields.
        Winter claims there are eight more officers on the street now than when Chávez took office. He says there are only 418 who are actually on the front line, based on the number of assignment requests submitted by officers. In 2001, there were 409.
        Police Chief Ray Schultz claims Winter's numbers are flawed because 2001 numbers do include some specialized units such as traffic and the numbers Winter used for this year do not.
        APD officials also contend that sergeants and the specialized units should be considered front-line cops.
        According to one national expert, it is likely no one really knows how many officers the city needs. The best way to figure that out, according to Lou Reiter, is to study the number and type of calls, the way officers spend their time, the number of reports they write, how spread out the city is and how the department handles calls.
        Many departments rely on a "gut feeling," said Reiter, a law enforcement consultant who has conducted manpower studies across the country. There is no national standard on how many officers each community should have and how many of them should be put in the streets.
        "If they have never done a manpower study in Albuquerque, it's likely no one knows how many officers are truly needed," Reiter said.
        Generally, police chiefs in large cities have preferred to have one officer for every 500 people, Reiter said. Albuquerque has one officer for every 452 people.
        Chiefs also like to have at least 50 percent of the department's manpower dedicated to patrol functions.
        Depending on whose numbers are used and the interpretation of a "front-line officer," 42 to 48 percent of APD officers are on the streets taking calls for service.
        "Compared to the rest of the country, those numbers are right in line," Reiter said. "But again, we don't know if it is right for Albuquerque. Every community is different. You just can't come up with a standard for the entire country because crime varies from community to community."
        Every year, the department does a study when officers are bidding for their preference of shift and area command. That study looks at the number of calls for service and how many officers are needed per shift.
        But it doesn't tell APD exactly how many officers it needs.
        "That's up to the chief of police," said APD spokesman John Walsh. "He considers numerous factors when making this decision. He doesn't arbitrarily decide on this."
        Reiter, who has done consulting work for APD, said he doesn't know if the department has done a thorough study like he suggests.
        Regardless, everyone involved in the debate wants more police.
        "We always need more cops," Dwyer said. "You never have too many."