Chief Eric Johnson of the Santa Fe City Police Department won the "no confidence vote" held by the Santa Fe Police Officers Association by a two to one margin. Another third of the officers eligible to vote did not do so. One would assume that most of those are satisfied or ambivalent with the way things are going thereby increasing the vote of those who have confidence in Chief Johnson's administration. So what now? The department is not going to fill all their positions over night, in fact several of those who led the effort to have this vote are near retirement. As each position is filled many more are retiring.
While police retirements plans are funded through the State Public Employees Retirement Association somehow counties and municipalities need to find a way to keep officers from retiring at a young age. While I have long been a proponent of the 20 year retirement for officers the down side is we are losing officers in their forty's. This is really young and they still have many good years still in them.
Officers receive seventy percent of their top three years pay at 20 years of service. This tops out at eighty percent for 22 years and 10 months. So officers really are forced to take retirement once they reach these places in time. Imagine having 22 years and 10 months in and you are not ready to retire. If you continue working you are working every day for only 20% of your pay. You can stay home and get 80%. If you leave accept your retirement and come back you lose your seniority and rank. Basically you are starting your career all over again. Senior officers do not want to do this because they find themselves reporting to and below rank to young officers who may have only had five years on the force. Because of this most retired officers leave law enforcement and go into a second career doing something else.
We need to come up with an solution to this problem. We cant go back and increase the years needed to retire, union contracts and backlash from employees would not allow this to happen. If we allow retires to come back and keep their previous rank and pay this will stifle the ability for others to move up and create a situation where career advancement would be slowed to all but a standstill. I have not come up with a workable creative solution to this problem but if anyone does they can save law enforcement in New Mexico. All agencies in New Mexico are facing the same problems.
This would not be as much of a problem if there was a long line of young men and women waiting to be officers. The truth is that young people today are more concerned with making money and having a career that involves big houses, cars, and success in a material sense. Law Enforcement is a public service career. Those in public service do not make that kind of money unless you are appointed in the upper echelons of state or local government. What you do get out of a law enforcement career is a career you can be proud of, a good retirement and a decent middle income life style. I remember when kids grew up wanting to be a cop or a firefighter, not for the money but because they honestly wanted to be a cop deep down in their soul.
I remember one time sitting down at the local Fraternal Order of Police having a beer with several officers. Talk got around to our kids and one by one each one said they did not want their kids to be cops. They talked about their kids having successful high dollar careers where their lives were not at risk. This was sad for me to hear. We need to encourage our young to carry the flag when we are finished. Law Enforcement is a great career that will make your life worthwhile.
Many times I am walking in the mall or at a grocery store and I will run into some young man with his wife and child and they will come up and introduce me to their family. Many years ago when this young man was a child I arrested him, or maybe I cut him some slack and didn't arrest him but gave him a good scare. I have been thanked many times even by those I arrested. Their lives were changed and somehow at least they believed that I played a part in that. That is what being a cop is about.