ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Nine months after the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) disbanded its Open Space Unit, it’s back with some changes. Officials noted they want a new type of officer patrolling open spaces to focus on conservation as well as curbing crime.

“Today, we have more open space per acre, per capita, than any other city in America. It’s one of the things we are awesome at,” said CABQ Mayor Tim Keller, “For us, the question is, how do we protect our open space going forward? So, today, we’re announcing the reinvigoration or the revamping of our Open Space Unit.”

Back in November, APD Chief Harold Medina announced the disbanding of the Open Space Unit, citing a lack of calls for service in those areas, among other issues. However, APD now has a different plan for the city’s wild lands.

“Yes, the calls for service are down, and that is exactly why we want to go more towards a conservation-type officer who is there also to protect the environment and to help the Bosque continue to grow and flourish,” Medina explained.

The new Open Space Unit will have around 23 people—including 15 officers, two sergeants, a deputy commander, and five police service aides. Medina said this new model of conservation officer has all the powers of a regular police officer, just with a little extra expertise.

“We do have a requirement for a[n] environmental field-related bachelor’s degree,” Medina stated, “‘Cause each and every day that they’re out there, they may see indicators to the environment, that there’s a hazard to the environment, whether it be erosion or trash or other things that are occurring. We want them to be able to identify and address those issues.”

The hope is these officers will help fight crime and preserve Albuquerque’s outdoors. “More officers and staff resources will be dedicated to the Open Space Unit than ever before in the history of open space,” stated ABQ Parks and Recreation Dept. Director Dave Simon.

The city’s hoping to have the new unit at least halfway staffed in the next six months. Cost-wise, the chief estimated Tuesday that APD would need another $5 million to run the new unit in the next budget year.