When I read this story at about 3:30 am this morning I was surprised and dismayed. It is well known that all law enforcement agencies, jails, prisons and military are having problems recruiting new officers. The City Council provided funding last year to raise salaries and provide hiring incentives to hire more officers after then City Manager Asenath Kepler declared a crisis. After much grumbling the councilors gave part of what the City Manager was asking and then later fired her for this and other reasons.
Now some councilors want to know why the police department has not filled all their positions. They have demanded that the city police do a better job of filling positions. It sounds great on the front page of the morning paper, but what does it really accomplish? The truth is all law enforcement agencies are having trouble recruiting. Both the Santa Fe City Police and the Sheriff's Office are quickly becoming Rio Rancho Substations. More and more of our officers are moving to Rio Rancho. It wont be long before more and more decide to stop commuting and just work in Albuquerque, Bernalillo, Rio Rancho, or Sandoval County. The commute would be less and the pay is comparable or better. The City of Albuquerque has literally over 130 vacancies. They will gladly take any or all of our officers.
So why did some of the councilors decide to grandstand now? How will this help recruiting? The last thing the city needs right now is another change in leadership at the top. Each time there is a change there is a period of adjustment and a new direction that takes time for buy in and time to determine whether the change will be successful. The City Police are still in that transition time now after the departure of Beverly Lennon as chief last year. Chief Johnson jumped right into the fire with federal investigations, loss of personnel and department that is in flux from a growing city to a large city busting at its seams. A city that can hardly afford its growth but at the same time has no choice but to continue to grow.
We need to come up with new solutions to our recruiting problems. If any of us knew the quick answer we could write the next bestseller that would be used by law enforcement, corrections and the military as the bible of this century. We can't give up, we need to continue to work hard at convincing a new generation that Law Enforcement is a great career where you can make a decent living, retire in only 20 years regardless of age, and make a difference in peoples lives everyday. We don't need grandstanding and rhetoric that can only hurt the City Police in its quest to fill positions.
Chief Eric Johnson has his heart in the right place, a good head on his shoulders and the ability to turn things around. Give him the tools and the time and I belive it will happen.