SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – While police departments across the state struggle to hire, one New Mexico police department is making strides, saying its officer vacancy rate is at its lowest in years.

For the first time since 2018, the Santa Fe Police Department has fewer than 20 officer vacancies. The department says that this will benefit everyone in the long run.

“We want to try to prevent crime, if possible, and to also deter crime by utilizing those resources to do proactive patrols,” said Deputy Chief Ben Valdez. Santa Fe police say they have hired eight new officers this month, and two more are currently being on-boarded.

When fully staffed, the department has 169 sworn officers. Right now, they have 153 sworn officers, with 16 current openings. Since hiring more officers, Santa Fe police says the community has been asking for more patrols at local stores to tackle the shoplifting issue.

“What we’re trying to do is to change that behavior and let people know there’s going to be accountability if you do decide to go out there and break the law.” Deputy chief Valdez calls the success a collaborative effort…saying the mayor and city council helped them get to this point by approving pay increases, which he says has helped with retention.

SFPD is offering a $1,000 hiring bonus to new officers and $15,000 to lateral officers who join SFPD. They are also offering lateral officers to receive 160 hours of leave.

With the increase of staff, SFPD is able to do more operations like community outreach, or their most recent ‘operation centralized aid’ where they were able to make 40 arrests. The department says it’s also going to work on filling its civilian staffing roles to improve response times and other areas of the department.