Albuquerque Journal

Desk-job civilians may help strengthen APD


Having a 1,000-officer police force has been a decades-long goal of the city of Albuquerqu­e. But the hard reality is the Albuquerqu­e Police Department has just 865 sworn officers this week, and it hasn’t come close to the 1,200 officers promised by Mayor Tim Keller in his 2017 and 2021 campaigns.

To be fair, Keller is right, “the recruiting pipeline is so small right now in America, and in New Mexico, you just can’t fund it to happen.” It’s time to think outside the traditiona­l staffing box.

So now Keller and APD have taken prudent steps to address the chronic officer shortage. In addition to embracing technology as a force multiplier (speed cameras, ShotSpotte­r locators and license-plate readers) and redeployin­g officers from underutili­zed units (the five officers that were patrolling city Open Space are back on the streets; Police Service Aides are now on bosque, mountain and mesa duty), they are hiring civilians to handle some traditiona­l desk jobs.

And that frees up sworn officers who have gone through weeks of rigorous academy training to answer calls for service, solve crimes and catch the criminals who are raining mayhem down on the community. As Keller says, “civilianiz­ing desk jobs” to comb through social media, analyze phone data and video, reconstruc­t fatal crashes, serve as bait-car technician­s and crime-scene specialist­s and help officers prepare cases for trial helps keep “forces in the field who are actually fighting crime.” And if it recruits some of those civilians, all the better. In addition, hiring civilians for positions in Internal Affairs adds a healthy outside perspectiv­e while filling jobs not always popular among the rank-and-file. Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, says civilians can help “break down some of the ‘Blue Wall’ syndrome.”

That said, Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerqu­e Police Officers’ Associatio­n, correctly notes APD’s primary goal must remain adding officers. Taxpayers deserve to have an officer show up after a 911 call, not a civilian.

While the city is getting real about police officer staffing, it’s time the Keller administra­tion bases its budget on realistic numbers of police officers, not factor in hundreds of slots that will never be filled so it can shift unused salary funding to other areas. It is also essential the city monitor and report back if the 80 civilians on APD’s payroll delivered for the department and taxpayers.

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