Cash from state recruitment fund could mean 300 new cops statewide, 30 in San Juan County

John R. Moses
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON – Reactions were mixed among two of three San Juan County law enforcement agencies that received offer letters from a program that would fund the hiring of 300 new officers at 29 agencies across the state, 30 of them in San Juan County.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham held a press conference on Sept. 9 and announced more than $40 million from the Law Enforcement Recruitment Fund would be awarded.

“Today we deliver on a promise to New Mexicans to get more police officers on our streets,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release. “Every New Mexican deserves to feel safe in their community, to know that law enforcement is coming when they need help – that’s why we are continuing our priority investments in public safety, funding new officers that will make a real difference in communities both small and large across the state.”

Cash comes from 2022 crime bill package

The Law Enforcement Recruitment Fund was part of House Bill 68 in the 2022 legislative session.

“Funding levels are based on an average officer salary of $75,000 and were awarded based on needs identified by the individual departments in their application process,” the governor’s office said in its Sept. 9 release.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is seen on Friday announcing the release of more than $40 million in funding from the Law Enforcement Recruitment Fund for the hiring of more than 300 new officers at 29 departments across New Mexico, including Bloomfield, Aztec and the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.

The bill, supported by the governor, was billed as crime-fighting package “and funded with $50 million in the budget to support the recruitment of new officers at local departments throughout the state,” the governor’s office said in the news release.

Reactions to the offer were mixed in San Juan County.

The letter was good news in Bloomfield, where Police Chief Phillip Francisco said he thinks the program will help add to his staffing and allow for the department to provide more services to the public while maintaining what’s there.

“We do have a full staff, so this will give us the ability to hire more,” Francisco said after attending the press conference in Albuquerque where Gov. Michele Lujan Grisham publicly announced the allocations.

Bloomfield’s two new officers would be funded by a $262,500 allocation paid out over three years in decreasing amounts.

He said this will allow the department to maintain a school resources officer.

Aztec’s police department was offered $525,000 to fund four officers.

Large offer brings pause to San Juan County Sheriff’s Office

The offer letter sent shockwaves this week through the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, not because it was unwelcome but due to the size of the offer.

Like other agencies, the office has to decide what to do with a cash offer from the state for a program that that would pay all of a new officer’s salary for one year, then half the second year and 25% for the third year.

The letter received by the Sheriff’s Office this week offered to hire 24 new employees at just over $3.1 million.

While the more than $3.1 million is welcome, Sheriff Shane Ferrari said many factors are making police recruiting efforts difficult, and he’s concerned about the rules for spending the money.

Shane Ferrari

“I think all of us are a little shocked right now,” he said of the offer. “…It’s not that we’re ungrateful for the funds.”

Ferrari said he’s eagerly awaiting more information about timelines for implementing such an ambitious plan. The agency would receive about $1.8 million in the first year, $900,000 in the second year and $450,000 in the final year of the program.

He said the situation reminds him of the 1985 film “Brewster’s Millions," a comedy that starred actors Richard Pryor and John Candy, wherein a man inherits money but has to spend a lot of cash fast, under a timeline and a strict set of rules – or he loses it all.

“That’s a lot of money, it really is,” he said of the offer.

Years of intense focus on negative issues related to law enforcement have affected the size of the hiring pool, Ferrari said, at the same time law enforcement agencies are offering bonuses that serve to lure officers to leave one agency and join another.

Recruiting new officers is a top goal that’s hard to attain, he said.

Sometimes, Ferrari said, eight candidates will be scheduled for interviews and two will show up, leading him to wonder if the other six checked a box on unemployment forms just to say they applied for a job.

“The issues I’m having is nobody wants to be a cop,” he said, due to politics and the denigration of law enforcement.

Ferrari said it’s important that, if the money is spent, it is spent in a way that benefits taxpayers.

Ferrari, a supporter of gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti, noted that this is the political season and offers of funding to law enforcement agencies play well.

Politicians know very well, he said, “we can’t spend it all but it looks good before an election.”

Both Ferrari and Francisco noted that a recent allocation to the New Mexico State Police benefitted that agency, but served to attract officers to that agency from other law enforcement agencies.

“The allocation of officer recruitment funding follows Gov. Lujan Grisham delivering 16% raises for New Mexico State Police Officers earlier this year,” the governor’s office said in the Sept. 9 release. “Over the course of her administration, the governor has dedicated $339 million toward public safety capital outlay funding – more than twice the amount appropriated in the previous eight years”

The release also noted that the Lujan Grisham administration announced recently that the Department of Workforce Solutions would pay for “training and equipment costs for 100 new officers throughout the state at no cost to local departments.”

Large and small agencies offered cash

The announcement drew praise from officials across the state.

“I want to thank the governor for keeping her promise to law enforcement to deliver this funding to our department, which will enable me and my team to better serve the people of Rio Arriba County," said Rio Arriba County Sheriff Billy Merrifield in the news release.

"I am grateful to Gov. Lujan Grisham for supporting law enforcement through this funding,” Ruidoso Chief of Police Lawrence Chavez said in the release. “The ability to hire six new officers in Ruidoso is going to go a long way in being able to serve and protect our community.”

The Ruidoso Police Department’s six new officers would be funded through $787,500 from the fund.

In addition, the Las Cruces Police Department was offered funding for officers at a price tag of more than $8.7 million and the Carlsbad Police Department was offered funding for 8 new officers at just over $1 million.