By Darrell Todd Maurina
Police staffing has reached a crisis and will soon become worse, according to Capt. Dan Blair of the Clovis Police Department.
“If things happen the way we think they are going to happen, by the end of the summer we will have an emergency,” Blair said at Tuesday’s meeting of the Clovis Public Safety Committee.
Thirteen of 64 police positions are now vacant, filled by trainees, or filled by military reservists called to active duty. Blair said that is leading to more crime.
Clovis is the seventh-largest city in New Mexico. Blair said FBI statistics for 2001, the most recent available, show that Clovis ranked second only to Albuquerque in arson cases. Clovis ranked third in murders and non-negligent homicides. Clovis is also above state averages in burglaries and thefts, Blair said.
The FBI reports that communities the size of Clovis average 2.5 officers per 1,000 residents, but Clovis has 1.7 to 1.8 officers per 1,000, Blair said.
Blair said by the middle of summer, manpower shortages will force Clovis police to stop responding to gas drive-offs and car crashes on private property, adjust its response to burglar alarms, eliminate funeral escorts, limit its response to public service calls, and evaluate petty misdemeanor calls to determine whether a response is needed.
Blair said new recruits won’t be ready to serve for nearly a year. He recommends the city raise pay and provide incentives for officers who are already certified to join the Clovis Police Department.
Clovis currently pays $54,402 to train a new recruit, including equipment costs, training costs, and New Mexico Police Academy fees. Blair said in just the last five years, Clovis lost 65 officers, mostly to other departments — more than the total authorized strength of the entire police department and an expense of at least $3.5 million.
“We’re spending our money and spinning our wheels in training instead of what we should be doing,” Blair said.
Blair proposed a number of steps to make Clovis police competitive with other departments, including increasing police salaries across the board by 20 to 30 percent and adding an incentive program that would cost between $97,000 and $140,000.
“This issue didn’t happen overnight,” said City Manager Ray Mondragon. “There are some serious issues we have to look at; it is a competitive world.”
“I agree with everything you said and I promise you as a city commissioner I will work as hard as I can to get it done,” Bobby Sandoval told Blair during Tuesday’s meeting. “If people realized what we saw here today, we’d see them change their minds immediately.”
“I think if the citizens realized what it cost to train a new police officer, $55,000, it would be easy,” concurred committee member Chris Bryant.
The public safety committee will next meet June 17 and Mondragon said the committee will consider specific proposals then.