ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque’s front line against violent crime — the Albuquerque Police Department — is slowly recovering from a chronic shortage of officers. A decade ago, there were over 1,000 sworn officers in the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), budget documents reveal. In 2016, there were only 833. As of December 2021, there are about 926 sworn officers within the department.
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That means there are now roughly 16 officers per 10,000 residents, down from about 20 officers per 10,000 residents in 2010.
There are several reasons why staff numbers have fallen in the last decade, APD Chief Harold Medina told KRQE News 13 in a recent interview on the New Mexico News Podcast. Policing is a challenging career, he says, and it’s only gotten tougher in recent years, particularly because of public criticism.
In 2020, Albuquerque saw protests related to police shootings and officer conduct. Chief Medina says these kinds of stressful scenarios are partly to blame for the officer shortage.
“I remember at one point during mid-2020, going to a briefing of our ERT [Emergency Response Team] as we were preparing for another protest, and I literally asked [the officers], ‘How many of you are in trouble at home because we’re at work again?'” Medina recalls. “I raised my hand, and as soon as I did, half the room raised their hand. I was like, ‘We’ll get through this together.'”
On top of that, Medina points out that there was a recent wave of retirements. In 2018, a new retirement compensation package was offered to officers. It allowed retirement-eligible officers to get a larger payout if they stayed on for just three more years, he explained. As a result, “sure enough, August of 2021, which was three years to the mark, we started to see mass retirements.”
But more officers are on the way. With a large focus on recruitment, data shows APD is slowly rebuilding its ranks. Following a low count of fewer than 850 sworn officers in 2016, mayoral candidate Tim Keller ran on the promise of adding 400 officers by 2021. Given retirements and resignations, APD isn’t quite at the Mayor’s goal. But recent signing bonuses show the city is making an effort to increase the ranks.
APD currently offers a $10,000 hiring bonus for cadets. The department offers lateral officers — which are officers that come from another department to APD — a $15,000 bonus. KRQE News 13 has previously reported that the bonus is the largest hiring bonus they’ve ever offered.
New Training Programs Outside of APD
Both lateral hires and new cadets have to go through training before they can get on Albuquerque’s streets. Traditionally APD has run its own training academy. But in 2018, APD partnered with Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) to start the CNM Law Enforcement Academy.
The CNM program can help train new officers alongside APD’s academy. In December 2021, the CNM Law Enforcement Academy has more than a dozen new graduates, according to Ray Fritts, the director of the program. Fritts also worked for APD for more than 20 years as a patrol officer and trainer.
“Even 10 or 15 additional [officers] for APD is helping them with their ultimate goal of adding officers,” says Fritts. “Whether it be one or 10 or 20, any little bit helps.”
Adding officers is one thing, but Fritts says there are even bigger plans for the CNM program. He says that by providing a combination of hands-on and discussion-based training, the program aims to not just create more officers, but better officers as well.
“The big call today in law enforcement, or by the public, is for a change in the law enforcement culture, a change in how law enforcement is done on a day-to-day basis,” Fritts says. “We’re not going to be able to make wholesale changes to police culture overnight. But if we train the students properly — and they go through our academy and they come out with the right philosophy, the right mindset, the right ideas — they will go to their agencies and with time… they will be able to affect change within their agencies down the road.”
The program curriculum includes all the officer training content that the New Mexico Department of Public Safety (DPS) requires. But Fritts says it’s the fact that the CNM Law Enforcement Academy goes beyond the requirements that can lead to better officers.
The program “has a crisis intervention component. It has domestic violence, emergency vehicle operations, firearms — all the training that’s required by DPS for a basic police officer,” he says. But the students also get more than 30 extra hours of legal training from a retired judge and a former defense attorney, Fritts says.
“We do some different things in order to reinforce that idea that we’re dealing with the public on a day-to-day basis,” Fritts adds. “Many times, law enforcement academies can be very sterile environments where the training takes place and they’re not really interacting with the community whatsoever during the training. But one of my instructors has incorporated, within his block of instruction, some activities which involve the students actually going out and conducting interviews with CNM students. They’ll go to CNM campuses, the UNM campus, and they’ll interview students and interact with them. [They’ll] ask them questions about what their opinion on law enforcement is.”
The hope, then, is that the next generation of Albuquerque police will be better connected to the community. Fritts says the feedback, so far, has been positive. And he looks forward to expanding the program and improving the curriculum further.
Right now, the program only accepts would-be officers sent from APD or other law enforcement departments. Average CNM students can’t graduate from the program as a way into law enforcement. But Fritts hopes that eventually, the program will allow so-called “self-sponsored” students to attend.