Today's article in the Santa Fe New Mexican is evidence why we should continue to be very wary of the coming annexation process. Reminder, STAY INVOLVED.
The first phase of the city's annexation plan that went into effect late last month caught police officers off-guard, wasn't properly planned and is negatively affecting both officer and civilian safety, according to officers' union president Allan Lopez.
Because of that, Lopez, who was elected president Thursday, has filed an informal grievance with the police administration. It requests that minimum staffing levels be immediately increased, that officers receive training to deal with crashes on the Interstate — which now falls under their jurisdiction — and that the city begin finding ways to pay more officers. That's according to a memo Lopez wrote Nov. 24.
The city "has taken a 'wing it and see what happens' attitude with this matter," the memo states. "The Santa Fe Police Officers' Association considers these issues a severe crisis and requests that you take immediate action in order to prevent a tragedy that could affect a member of this association or the public well-being."
Santa Fe Deputy Police Chief Abram Anaya said the department is already addressing the union's issues. A lieutenant is almost finished with a study looking at minimum staffing levels, another supervisor is researching classes that cover investigating crashes in high-speed zones, and the department is actively recruiting new officers, he said.
Furthermore, the first phase of annexation, which went into effect Nov. 24, shouldn't have come as a surprise because two union members were on a department annexation committee, Anaya said. "
All the stuff in the (union) memo we are addressing and we know we need to improve on," he said. "In fact, we were addressing all these issues months before the informal grievance came out."
Phase 1 of the annexation plan fills in the city's boundaries in many small areas, mainly along Interstate 25 on the city's southern border. It brought more than 1,900 acres into the city and at least 1,313 more people based on 2000 census figures.
Phase 2, however, is far more problematic, police and city officials have said. That phase will rope in another 3,765 acres and 13,650 more people based on 2000 census figures. Phase 3 will include about the same number of residents as Phase 1, and about 4,100 new acres. All are scheduled to be incorporated into the city by the end of 2013.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano, whose department previously handled the areas now in the city under phase 1, has said his deputies will help the city when officers are not available.
Lopez said he has already noticed a larger number of calls for service since the annexation took place, and that the department's minimum staffing of nine officers per shift should rise to at least 12, if not more.
He characterized the department as "reactive" and said officers are constantly going from call to call and don't have time for proactive patrols. Also, he pointed out that city councilors approved 45 new officers two years ago but have so far only funded four positions because of the failing economy. And that increase didn't include the 27 new patrol officers the department estimates it needs for annexation.
Anaya said the department has eight cadets at the Law Enforcement Academy and five more funded patrol officer positions it can fill if it can find qualified candidates. In addition, the department recently received a federal stimulus grant that will pay the salaries and benefits for eight new officers for three years.
While he admitted it takes time to field qualified patrol officers, Anaya said if those positions can be filled, the department will add 21 new officers to the streets and increase each of its three shifts by seven officers.
Lopez complained that no one at the police department bothered to inform commanders or the rank and file that the annexation was about to occur Nov. 24. He said the two union members on the department's annexation committee didn't know the date Phase 1 was to go into effect. "We didn't know it was coming," he said.
Anaya, however, said the union had plenty of opportunities to find out about the annexation and should have known about it. He also pointed out that the annexation issue was heavily publicized in the media.
"The one thing that did surprise me (about Lopez's grievance memo) is that they claim no knowledge of it," he said. "It should not be a shock to anybody." Lopez said he hopes to iron out the differences at a meeting between union officials and police administrators scheduled for next Thursday. If the city's response isn't acceptable to the union,
Lopez said, he will file a formal grievance.
"There is a serious lack of communication," he said. "We're not on the same page."
Contact Jason Auslander at 986-3076 or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.