A big positive from the city of Albuquerque’s new contract with the local police union is it not only increases officer pay to push recruitment and retention, it includes incentives to keep officers in jobs or neighborhoods to build familiarity and expertise.
A surprising negative is city representatives can’t tell taxpayers how much the raises and incentives will increase total spending on police — not even a ballpark range. And the union continues to include sergeants and lieutenants with the officers they supervise.
Also one big question is whether allowing 120 days into use-of-force investigations (up from 90 with an optional 30-day extension) and instituting a 15-day preliminary review time period to determine all potential violations will translate into a more accountable department or more blown deadlines — blown deadlines that leave black clouds over officers who have done nothing wrong and let those who have done wrong dodge discipline.
The collective bargaining agreement comes in the shadow of APD’s settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. Most Albuquerque residents are familiar with the shocking police-involved shooting headlines in past years and the 2014 DOJ investigation that found officers had a practice of using excessive force against residents. An independent monitor appointed to oversee APD’s court-mandated reform effort issues a report every six months grading the department’s progress. The latest report found a backlog of 667 use-of-force investigations, with 553 of those surpassing the 120-day limit and no longer eligible for discipline — an example of “deliberate non-compliance” with the settlement agreement, monitor James Ginger concluded.
Critics in APD Forward, a coalition of police reform advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, wanted the investigation period lengthened to 180 days. But that begs the question how long is long enough, and shouldn’t APD be doing timely investigations for the sake of officers and the public rather than kicking the can down the road? The responsible reaction to the specter of blown deadlines is to meet them, not simply buy more time. Meanwhile, APD has told the Journal Editorial Board it has re-prioritized use-of-force cases so new ones go to the front of the line and don’t risk missing the investigation/discipline window. If the backlog continues, then certainly 180 days should be among options up for consideration.
APD Forward also sought to end two provisions in the last CBA: one that bars the city’s Civilian Police Oversight Agency board members from knowing the names of the officers the agency investigates and another that requires telling officers under investigation the name of the person who complained about them. These issues deserved robust debate: It stands to reason the CPOA would want to be aware of frequent fliers, and complainants could rightly fear retaliation but officers deserve to know who’s targeting them. City Council president Isaac Benton acknowledged the Council cannot participate in labor negotiations but says it should have had the chance to weigh in.
Back to the CBA’s positives: higher starting pay (about $68,000 a year) gives officers a raise they deserve as well as puts APD well above peer cities such as Tucson and El Paso. The contract also includes financial incentives to reward officers who stay (longevity pay) and work out of the same area command (designed to keep officers in the same neighborhoods longer). The compensation package enables “real community policing,” Chief Harold Medina says.
Also good: A deal was long overdue. The city and union have been operating under the old CBA for more than 18 months due to complications from the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the fact city officials can’t ballpark what the pay raises will cost — whether you include officers on the force now or the number at fully authorized strength — is baffling and gives no confidence in the administration’s budgeting.
For the department, the stakes are now to get better or go bust — “bust” being a court-ordered receivership. With this contract, APD won’t be able to say it’s underpaid and underappreciated if it fails to make meaningful strides.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.