ALBUQUERQUE – Seven Albuquerque beat police officers were among the city’s top 25 salary earners last year and made more than the mayor thanks to overtime, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of the city of Albuquerque’s top earners.
The review found that the seven first class police officers, or beat cops, patrolling New Mexico’s largest city took in a salary of at least $124,000 in 2016. By contrasts, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry earned $104,000.
Critics of the overtime spending say it is a result of officers taking advantage of a system that allows them to grab excessive overtime at the expense of the city. But the leader of Albuquerque police union says the overtime is a result of an understaffed, overworked department trying to keep pace with rising crime and limited resources.
According to records, Officer Ramiro Garza was the city’s seventh top earner, taking home nearly $147,000 in salary and overtime. Records show he was followed by Officer Brian Johnson who earned $145,100 last year.
The average Albuquerque patrol officer makes around $50,000 a year.
The review of the city’s 250 top earns also found that 66 first class police officers were among the highest paid, earning in total around $7.1 million in salary and overtime.
Former Albuquerque Public Safety Director Pete Dinelli said the salaries show that certain officers know how to manipulate the system to gain overtime – something that’s been happening for years.
“This is not new. I remember expressing concern about this when I noticed that a few officers were getting paid more than the mayor, said Dinelli, a former city councilor who now runs a political blog.
Among those Dinelli spotted making excessive overtime was Paul Heh, a retired sergeant, who drew scrutiny of city officials for pulling tens of thousands of dollars in overtime. In 2011, city records showed that Heh was the fourth-highest paid employee the previous year at $139,000, also earning more than the mayor.
Heh said that overtime was owed to him and he did nothing wrong. He later ran unsuccessfully for mayor.
But Albuquerque Police Officers Association President Shaun Willoughby said the recent figures highlight that the department is understaffed and funding hasn’t kept up amid rising crime and population growth.
“In 1990, we have 809 officers. Today, we only have 35 more officers from that time and we have around 175,000 more people,” Willoughby said. “We should have at least 1,000 officers now.”
In addition, Albuquerque police have to patrol an expanded area that includes the busy Paseo del Norte street and a booming Westside. The department also in the midst of federally ordered reforms and rising violent crime, especially in downtown, Willoughby said.
“Is it any wonder why Albuquerque is on fire,” Willoughby said. “We are at war.”
Associated Press writer Mary Hudetz contributed to this report.