Mayor: Bloomfield will have community discussions about police department's future

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FARMINGTON — Bloomfield's mayor cited struggles to recruit, train and retain police officers as the reason that Bloomfield leaders approached the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office to discuss contracting for law enforcement and fire protection.

Since January, the Bloomfield Police Department has decreased from 18 officers to 13 officers, according to an emailed statement Mayor Cynthia Atencio drafted after consulting City Councilors on Thursday.

Atencio said combining the Bloomfield Police Department with the Sheriff’s Office could reduce costs, develop economies of scale and reduce duplication of functions.

“This would allow better training, recruitment and retention by providing for more money for more officers, better opportunities for advancement and most importantly, provide more effective, uniform and consistent public safety,” she said in the statement.

In Atencio’s statement, she said the city is collecting facts and figures. Once the city has collected those figures, she said there will be community discussions to review the options.

Mayor: City can't 'buy' its way to a solution

Atencio highlighted the council’s recent decision to raise pay for officers. Prior to the raise, entry level officers were making $18.87 each hour after receiving certification. In contrast, Aztec pays $22.63 hourly for entry level officers.

Even with the pay raise this year, Bloomfield lags behind other regional law enforcement departments.

Bloomfield Police Department has three open positions listed on the city's website. The listing for a cadet officer or police officer trainee would pay $21.53 hourly.

The sheriff's office pays $22.77 an hour and Farmington's hourly wage is $22.80 for entry-level officers, according to the county and city's webpages.

“Unfortunately, Bloomfield cannot ‘buy’ its way to a solution,” Atencio said in the statement.

In fiscal year 2018, Bloomfield spent about $2.2 million on the police department, according to numbers provided in the monthly financial report in the agenda packet for the Monday City Council meeting. The city’s total general fund revenue was less than $7 million.

“With the city’s challenging financial condition, spending a bigger and bigger share of the budget on the police budget at the expense of other essential city services is not an option,” Atencio said.

Atencio said the mayor and City Council decided to change the focus and philosophy of law enforcement in April. She said residents were demanding increased patrols and visibility. Atencio said this lead to neighborhood watch programs being developed as well as improving the coffee with a cop program. Atencio said the city has also created a police advisory committee. She said the city has met with both the sheriff’s office and state police for cooperative and additional security.

“However, the problem remains: a shortage of officers and the inability to hire and retain more officers,” Atencio said.

Officers are leaving for other communities

Former police Chief Randy Foster was one of the officers that have left the department this year. Foster resigned after accepting a job in Arizona.

The department also lost its canine officer when the dog's handler accepted a job at San Juan County Sheriff's Office.

Atencio said other law enforcement agencies see Bloomfield as a training ground for new officers.

“After investing significant money in training officers, Bloomfield officers leave for higher pay and advancement opportunities,” she said in the statement. “For Bloomfield, it has become a ‘zero sum game’ that cannot continue.”

Fire department could also combine with county

In addition to the contract for law enforcement, the city has spoken to the county about contracting with the San Juan County Fire Department. Bloomfield Fire Chief John Mohler has accepted a job at the San Juan County Fire Department and is also doubling as a volunteer fire chief in Bloomfield. Atencio said Mohler initiated the discussions about combining the fire departments. She said the city is only in the discussion phase with the county fire department.

“We are committed to working with the citizens to make these important decisions,” Atencio said. “Our number one priority to make sure our citizens, business and employees are safe.”

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

 

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