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A group of Santa Fe police officers watch as people protesting the death of George Floyd march though the Plaza on Wednesday, July 1. 

The Santa Fe Police Department, which was on track to reduce its rate of open positions in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, now has its highest number of vacancies in five years, Chief Andrew Padilla told city councilors this week.

The department has 33 vacant police officer positions and 19 open civilian jobs, Padilla told the Quality of Life Committee at a meeting Wednesday. That compares with an average of 28 officer vacancies since 2016, when the agency began to see a rise.

Due to budget cuts tied to the economic effects of the pandemic, a number of positions are not only vacant but unfunded — or “frozen,” Padilla said in an interview Thursday. Out of the 33 officer vacancies, which range from cadet positions to police captain, 15 are unfunded, he said.

The city force long has struggled to retain officers, largely because of higher pay offered by other law enforcement agencies in the area — in particular the Albuquerque Police Department. Following a report by the nonprofit National Police Foundation that found low pay and lack of significant raises were among the top challenges to filling open jobs at the Santa Fe agency, the SFPD boosted its starting wages and increased hiring incentives in February 2020. In May, it hired 10 cadets and two lateral officers — certified law enforcement officers with experience at other agencies.

Then the city began feeling the financial hit from the pandemic.

Padilla said he commends the police department’s staff, especially officers, for the work they have been doing over the year.

“They’re doing more and more with less,” the chief said. “We’re strapped and we’re stretched pretty thin.”

The New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy, which had been shut down due to a surge in virus cases, resumed operations in January. Padilla said that likely will lead to new recruits. Currently, there are six cadets in training who are expected to graduate in May and join the Santa Fe force.

Another factor affecting the overall vacancies was the suspension of the department’s public safety aide program, which allowed applicants as young as 18 to work as aides, assisting with patrols and handling low-level incidents, Padilla said. Those six positions were not funded for the current fiscal year.

Padilla noted it’s more common than in the past for police officers to move between departments. His force also has seen a high rate of retirements in recent years.

“What it just comes down to is retirements, and it’s a tougher time to be police officer nowadays,” Padilla said. “More officers are willing to jump from this department to that department because they offer a little bit more, whether it’s better pay, better vehicles or better technology.”

The most important thing, he said, is that the police department “remain competitive” with larger agencies nearby, such as the Albuquerque Police Department.

City Councilor Chris Rivera, a member of the Quality of Life Committee, acknowledged the pandemic has amplified an ongoing issue.

“It’s been a tough to find and hire police officers for some time, but again, it’s just gotten worse because of the academy shutdown and really not being able to fill positions in a timelier manner than we have been,” Rivera said in an interview Thursday.

Still, Rivera said he doesn’t believe more funding would solve the problem.

“It’s kind of a progressive thing that takes time as people start to make it through [the academy],” the councilor said.

He added: “It will be nice to finally get back to a state of normalcy, where people are applying and we’re getting them into the academy as soon as possible and getting them into the streets, where we need them the most.”

(11) comments

Francisco Carbajal

The truth of the matter is the Police Chief has no clue on how to lead and managed a paramilitary police force in Santa Fe. The lack of exhibiting a positive role-model example of good character, high moral compass, integrity, highly motivated, trust, and dignity attributes are the missing link to why the "good" officer's are leaving Santa Fe. The high vacancies and shortage of police officer's in the ranks is not the primary issue in Santa Fe, but a low morale problem within the Rank and File. Again, the basic core principles of each attribute is essential in keeping a healthy and professional police force for any law enforcement agency from across the country. In addition, you cannot teach these core values, because each one are individually owned by each name plate that is wearing the badge on-duty. The virtue's of "don't cheat, lie or steal" should be a stepping stone for the Police Chief to strive for and exhibit twenty-four hours. Otherwise, if anyone of these virtue's are breached, then, all of them are tainted. So, called it for what it is. The Mayor has no control over his Police Chief's lack of moral turpitude like he thinks he has. On the same note, the Mayor can ensure the next Police Chief Appointment will be required to exhibit these core values in the job description and make them as a "Condition of Employment." And if they are violated, the Police Chief position is an "EXEMPT" position and does not qualify for an "APPEAL" process. It is done! Just another perspective to think about.

Bruce Krasnow

Wait, what happened to the argument that allowing SF Officers to drive tax-payer owned vehicles home to Rio Rancho and Albuquerque was a necessary recruitment tool? In fact, it’s the opposite...Officers who live elsewhere build their relationships and community, and loyalties elsewhere and will flee Santa Fe at the first opportunity. Wonder how many who left accepted that retention bonus...what was that $6K.

Chris Mechels

Ignored is that Chief Padilla is an incompetent, in many ways, including the "evidence room" fiasco, and not dealing with the lost two SFPD cop killings, both of which violated the SFPD policy on Use of Force. Chief Gallagher told Mayor Webber not to hire inside, but Webber ignored him, as he ignores most good advice.

If you look to the financials, you would find HUGE overtime bills, due to the staff shortage. It costs MORE to be short staffed, due to overtime. So, those on board can make a lot of money from the current shortage.

With no effective oversight, by the City Council or the Mayor, the cops do what they want, and that involves taking care of the cops, not us.

Also not mentioned, SFPD gets the WORST police training in the state; 677 hours vs 1100 hours for Las Cruces PD. Nobody seems to care, certainly the the City Council.

How can things improve, when nobody cares?? For a beginning Chief Padilla must be replaced, and a competent, outside, Chief hired. Webber really should have listened to Gallagher.

The Council must put some OVERSIGHT of the police in place. There is none.

Yes, it really is that bad, and will get worse with the current crew.

john young

I have absolutely NO info on this but by appearances, its seems alot of the departures are due to bad supervision and not just a money thing. It is an immensely different job working in ABQ than hear. Yes, add the OT available and you can make alot up

Francisco Carbajal

Mr. Chris Mechels, pobercito! Take care of yourself. This type of subject matter is very stressful and demanding on the "high blood" pressure arena.

john young

As a retired municipal Police Officer I am more & more disturbed by the attitudes towards reform. Absolutely, the time for 'reform' has come however, the only voices being heard are the 2 extremes- Police Unions & the BLM- which are to certain result in ineffectiveness at the least and further division between Police Departments and the greater community.

The goal must be to RE-build the Police/Community bridge !! This can not be achieved by either status-quo nor de-funding. In fact most Bills across the nation become, for the most part, punitive toward Law Enforcement and do not address just how to provide a higher quality of Enforcement during these times of changing expectations.

Linda Lopez's bill is flawed and uninformed. It could very well result in further deaths to members of the public. I have contacted her office with the offer of constructive input but she failed to acknowledge or even offer the courtesy of responding !!

Locally, the City committee designed to make changes in Law Enforcement has been silent. Yes, I was rejected from volunteering my contributions to that committee.

This is not about me, it is to build a better mouse-trap. This mouse is offering input!

We will NOT improve on this important topic until we step back with a collaboration that includes all members of the Public, including police officers. Until then a 'we/they' situation will continue and only the narrow-minded will be interested in joining any Department. We need to open the doors of all Police Departments to ALL.

Dan Klein

The comment about the Albuquerque Police Department is simply a dog whistle that the author of this column could easily have debunked by reading recent news reports that Albuquerque Police have stalled out in their attempt to grow APD. If she wanted to go further, a simple phone call (or ask Chief Padilla) to APD asking how many Santa Fe police officers has APD hired since 2019 would do it. Santa Fe PD has a lot of openings, maybe the issue isn't all about pay from other departments.

Bob Res

Excellent post....thank you!

Lee DiFiore

Santa Fe can be a model for the rest of the country on how to defund the police while telling your constituents "nothing to see here". Policing in Santa Fe is a very low priority which, apparently, is the way the city's leaders want it.

Richard Reinders

With the cities attitude about policing and progressive agenda it is no surprise they are having a problem getting hires. Now if the Civil Rights Bill passes Rivera you and Webber might have to strap on a gun and drive a squad car . Holding police back from doing the job they are trained to do is demeaning and demoralizing. I wouldn't want a job where I am micro managed by an untrained in law enforcement Mayor. City Police Chiefs should be like the Sheriff elected by the people to protect the people , their city and their monuments. It is the legislators job and to fund and mandate better training at the academy so police have the tools to handle todays issues.

Khal Spencer

Between the low salaries compared to the cost of living and the increasingly anti-police attitude of the Woken People, I'd be reticent to take a cop job here, too.

Back when I finished high school, I went down and picked up an application to the Buffalo Police Dept. Got to line two or three and saw that there was a minimum height requirement and I didn't meet it. Wonder what my life woulda been like had I been five foot nine.

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