Friday, June 29, 2007
APS Could End Up With Certified Force
By Andrea Schoellkopf
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque Public Schools should not be contracting out for its police or security needs, a community task force is recommending.
Ultimately, that may mean creation of an APS police force that local law enforcement officials argue should be fully certified as a police agency.
Currently APS has what is called a hybrid community agency. APS has estimated it would take nearly $2 million to upgrade its force to law enforcement standards and would involve upgrading its fleet from Chevrolet Impalas to "appropriate" police vehicles and increasing salaries to be competitive with other agencies.
The APS Community Safety Commission formed after an APS audit found problems with the department under Chief Gil Lovato was told by city and county law enforcement Thursday they would not be able to staff the schools.
"We face the challenge every day of keeping our current positions filled," said Ramona Sanchez, public safety liaison for Bernalillo County Public Safety.
The Albuquerque Police Department has to meet a goal of 1,100 officers by the end of the year, and currently has many vacancies, Chief Ray Schultz said. Hiring officers for schools would not be a big priority, he said, and he has to work with the police union on making assignments.
"Those additional bodies would be coming at the back end," Schultz said.
The commission is expected to make a final recommendation for the school board at the commission's July 6 meeting.
Should the recommendation be for a full police agency, APS facilities director Brad Winter said the panel will next have to consider whether to arm the officers a controversial subject that is supported by police but opposed by others in the communities.
Currently, APS officers many of whom are retired from other agencies must keep their weapons locked in their car trunks and go through a complicated chain of command to access them during the school day.
Parent Susan Carter said while other parents have told her they don't want APS officers carrying guns in the schools, they aren't aware that APS officers are actual police officers and that city resource officers already carry guns in the schools.
Should APS have a certified police department, it would be eligible for grants and could use other agencies for recordkeeping, evidence room, training or Internal Affairs investigations.
"It doesn't need to be completely, solely functioning as an independent law enforcement agency," Schultz said.
A certified department would be able to have access to the FBI database, and APS officers would be able to handle school-area traffic concerns the district now relies on the city and county to take care of.
"I think the biggest thing is we need to become a certified police department," said Lt. Steve Tellez, the acting APS police chief. "We want to be able to take care of our schools."