Mayor Richard Berry believes the reason the Albuquerque Police Department is having trouble recruiting/retaining officers is because of changes to the PERA retirement plan. He stated he will lobby the Legislature to enact a deferred retirement option plan (DROP). This will only harm the entire state, as the work done in 2013 to make PERA solvent would be compromised by such a plan.
Changes to PERA did not create the staffing crisis at APD; Berry’s policies have.
There are four reasons why APD cannot recruit/retain officers.
First, Berry ended the veteran officer retention program. This in-house Albuquerque program provided a bonus for officers who delayed their retirement. A total of 129 officers delayed their retirement when this program was in effect, swelling the ranks of senior officers at APD to almost 1,200. There may be a plan in the works to bring back a retention program, but it will be too late to stop retirements slated for the end of 2013. Why didn’t Berry act months ago to stop these dozens of officers from retiring on Dec. 31?
Second is the change in hiring requirements that Berry imposed. APD applicants must have either 60 college hours or three years active military. This is not a “raising of standards” as Berry has stated. This only reduced our hiring pool to a puddle. This is why APD graduates fewer than 20 officers from the academy each year. This standard allows a 21-year-old with no work history, who lived at home, who has $30,000 in student loan debt, a 2.0 GPA, a majority of classes in “food arts” and only 60 hours to show for four years of college to apply with APD. This policy excludes the 30-year-old, who worked since 18 years old, owns a home, has no debt and has maturity through life experience.
APD must allow for an applicant who has maturity, but does not have college or military experience, to apply. These citizens make good police officers.
Third, the contract impasse of the last four years has ruined morale. Finally there is a contract offer, but any city offer that does not recognize police officers as being just as important as Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry will probably go down to defeat. Handing Perry a 22 percent pay raise and offering the police 1 percent will not get a contract ratified by the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, and will lead to a further erosion of morale and officers leaving.
Fourth, the Department of Justice investigation has embarrassed Albuquerque on a national level.
Who wants to work for a department that has had so much scandal with no accountability? From the adultery “nature at play” comments made by the past chief to the millions in court judgments, something is wrong at the top of APD. This can be fixed by Berry refocusing accountability at all levels, but most importantly in the command staff. A good place to start will be for Berry to order a full investigation into why ex-APD officer Nelson Begay (arrested on child pornography charges) was able to pass all levels of the APD recruiting process – including polygraph, background and psychological testing – to become an APD officer.
Is there a flaw in APD’s recruiting standards? Who is accountable for Begay being hired? We will not know unless a full review is ordered by Berry. I urge Berry to drop the DROP plan. Berry owns APD’s current mess; it is time for him to take responsibility and start fixing it in Albuquerque, not in Santa Fe. APD’s problems and solutions start and stop at Berry’s desk. Passing the buck to the Legislature is not the type of leadership Albuquerque needs.
As we've seen with the proposed police contract, it seems the Berry Administration has no interest in fixing this mess.