A potentially dangerous situation is brewing at the Bernalillo County jail. New numbers show the Metropolitan Detention Center is short about 100 corrections officers and the county is trying to get a handle on the situation.
“This year is bad. The last two years, in particular, it seems like we’re just not getting the numbers in that we need to be getting,” said Joseph Trujeque, the president of the Corrections Officers Union.
Trujeque says the shortage is so serious, that almost every weekend the jail is activating their emergency response team, not because of a riot, but because they are in desperate need of officers to come and work.”It’s a huge safety issue,” said Trujeque.
According to a roster, on the May 31 nightshift, they needed 78 officers to be at MDC monitoring the inmates. However, Trujeque says, they were short 40 officers and leaders had to force some people to work the shift on overtime. “It’s not a good environment to be in. You’re almost like a prisoner yourself,” said Trujeque.
In total, MDC is short 79 officers out of 411. A number Trujeque says is even more alarming than it appears. “There’re special assignments all over the jail that pull from officers that aren’t working in those pods,” said Trujeque.
Trujeque says leaders pull about 60 officers a day from patrol to work in jobs like prisoner transport. “On a day to day basis, it can be challenging to know what we’re looking at when we go in the morning, how many people we do need because those vacancies pop up throughout the day,” said Candace Hopkins, with MDC.
Hopkins disagrees with Trujeque, saying the shortage is not a safety issue. “MDC doesn’t consider it dangerous. Like many other facilities, MDC is used to operating at these staffing numbers,” said Hopkins.
Still, MDC is ramping up its recruiting and retention efforts online and in the community by hiring three full-time recruiters. “That’s revolutionary for us. In the past, we didn’t have any officers going out into the community,” said Hopkins.
However, Trujeque says this will always be a hard job that not a lot of people can handle for long. “Get feces thrown at them, get called names, some of them are not prepared for it, so they quit,” said Trujeque.
County corrections officers did just get an 8% pay increase, raising their hourly rate to $18 after the academy.
The union says to be truly competitive, CO’s salaries need to be comparable to Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and the Albuquerque Police Department. Officers at those agencies make $30 and $29 an hour.
The jail says they’re working to make the hiring process shorter.