Santa Fe police union: Proposed bonus is a ‘slap in the face’

Patrol Officer Anthony Madrid works in his cruiser at the Plaza on Monday. The president of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association, Detective Tony Trujillo, said Monday he doubts police officers will accept retention bonuses from the city because the amount is not enough. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

A proposal by Mayor Alan Webber to offer bonuses to Santa Fe police officers in hopes of preventing them from leaving for better-paying jobs in other departments may not be going anywhere.

The president of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association, Detective Tony Trujillo, said Monday he doubts police officers will accept Webber’s proposition. Though he declined to disclose the amount, Trujillo called the city’s proposed retention bonuses “insulting” and “a slap in the face” to the department’s rank and file.

“The mayor indicated that he was going to do everything he could to stop the bleeding and to keep our officers from leaving, but the amount that the city agreed upon was nowhere near where we wanted it to be,” Trujillo said. “It’s not going to stop anyone from leaving, and if it’s any indication as to [potential] salary increases [under a new contract] in July, I hate to say it, but it’s not going to be a good year for Santa Fe police officers.”

Trujillo confirmed the union had requested a $15,000 retention bonus for each officer, but it was only meant as a starting point in its negotiations with the city, which he said countered with a fraction of the amount.

“Whatever happens after this, it falls squarely on the shoulders of City Hall,” he said, adding union members will vote on whether to ratify the mayor’s proposal Jan. 10.

Webber, who also wouldn’t disclose the dollar amount, said the proposed retention bonuses aren’t intended to be a long-term solution to police pay but a gesture of good faith as the city and the police union negotiate a new contract. Webber said the city and the union agreed to put discussions on a new contract on hold “while we tried to open up this very unique retention negotiation as a short-term step.”

He called his retention bonus proposal “six-month incentive pay.”

“I hope they don’t turn it down,” Webber said. “While I completely understand their frustration, the amount that the city has at its disposal in midyear is very limited. If they interpret it as somehow not taking them seriously, I think that’s unfortunate. That’s not the intention. I hope they will accept the offer because it’s intended in good faith.”

The friction over retention bonuses comes as the Santa Fe Police Department continues to grapple with a steady stream of officers leaving for higher-paying jobs in Albuquerque and elsewhere. A spokesperson for the Albuquerque Police Department did not return a message seeking comment, but Trujillo said close to 20 officers who recently went to work in Albuquerque were lateral hires from Santa Fe.

“I’m not knocking other agencies, but Santa Fe right now seems to be competing with the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Department and Española as far as pay goes,” Trujillo said.

He added low morale is affecting the department. For example, he said, anywhere from 35 to 40 officers used to put their names on a list to work overtime. But only a handful of officers put their names on the most recent list. The police department was forced to adjust shifts to have enough officers to staff the New Year’s Eve celebration on the Santa Fe Plaza, he said.

“These officers, they don’t want to work [overtime] anymore,” he said. “They’re tired. They’re frustrated. They are burned out.”

Santa Fe police Chief Andrew Padilla did not return a message seeking comment.

As Santa Fe continues to deal with issues over pay, response times for high priority calls — emergency situations like shootings, home invasions or armed robberies — have started to slip, increasing by about two minutes since 2017, according to police documents.

“Officers cannot go by themselves to these calls, they have to wait for their backup and that can take minutes,” Trujillo said.

Response times for all categories of calls — from low to high priority — have gone up since 2017, documents show.

However, the mayor cautioned against linking staffing shortages to longer response times, saying the issue requires a “thorough review and assessment.”

“You can correlate, but you can’t prove causation between staffing levels and call times,” he said.

While the collective bargaining agreement between the police union and the city isn’t up for another six months, City Manager Erik Litzenberg wrote a letter to the police officers association Dec. 21 requesting a meeting “to open that agreement up early for the specific purpose of putting immediate financial retention incentives on the table.”

“At the same time, we are working on longer-term pay increases as part an an overall improvement agenda,” Litzenberg wrote in the letter.

Webber said Trujillo told him it was the first time in his 30-year career “that any city administration has requested a midyear negotiation over trying to find a way to provide incentives for officers to stay with our department.”

“As far as he could remember, City Manager Litzenberg and I were the first mayor and city manager ever to go out to the police headquarters and have a listening session where we just tried to get the point of view of the officers,” Webber said. “That was several months ago, so this conversation about police — and not just retention but the overall direction of the police department — has been going on for months because we care. I think it’s absolutely clear that public safety is the No. 1 job of any mayor, and I take it very seriously.”

Webber noted his administration recently implemented signing bonuses for new police hires as part of an effort to boost staffing levels.

The police department is budgeted for 177 uniformed officers. Police spokesman Greg Gurulé was unable to provide the most recent number of vacancies. In late October, the department had 29 vacancies.

While the immediate issue is over money, Webber said pay is part of a larger conversation about the future of the police department — including staffing levels, training, equipment, technology and educational and career advancement opportunities.

“It’s easy to talk about money, and that’s the immediate situation. But on a much larger scale, what we’re looking for is the best police department in the country,” the mayor said. “In the short-term, we need to demonstrate our good faith that we care deeply about the men and women in the police department and we appreciate what they are doing, and we want to demonstrate that with this one-time retention bonus incentive. If they feel that it isn’t enough and they reject it, we’ll go on from there.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.