Randy Foster cites challenges facing shrinking department

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FARMINGTON — Bloomfield officials say the inability of the city's police department to retain officers has led to conversations with the county about using the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.

A series of memos sent by then-Bloomfield Police Chief Randy Foster between Jan. 4, 2017, and March 12, 2018, highlight a variety of issues that Foster stated would make it hard for the police department to continue.

In the first memo, Foster warned then-City Manager Eric Strahl that “without creating an immediate strategic plan forward we will quickly find ourselves in a position where we can no longer function and the city will not be in any financial position to fix the problem.”

These memos were obtained by The Daily Times through a public records request after it was revealed the city of Bloomfield has been in discussions with San Juan County regarding contracting with the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.

The need for the development of a strategic plan was echoed in several subsequent memos dated Dec. 11, 2017; Jan. 24, 2018; and March 12, 2018.

Bloomfield City Manager George Duncan did not respond to questions from The Daily Times about a strategic plan for the police department. Instead, he issued a short statement via email.

“The City of Bloomfield is currently waiting on the County to provide their proposal so that it can be evaluated and discussed,” Duncan said in the email. “The City has not given the County a deadline when this information is required. It should be emphasized that this discussion, with the County, is just that…. a discussion, one option which is certainly not a foregone conclusion.”

Police department is working with a 19 percent smaller budget

Bloomfield drastically cut its budget in fiscal year 2016 following a drop in gross receipts tax revenue, which officials credited to a downturn in the oil and gas industries.

The fiscal year 2018 budget was nearly 33 percent less than the budget for fiscal year 2016.

Every department in the city saw its budget cut. The police department saw a nearly 19 percent cut in funding from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2018, according to city documents.

Budget cuts meant no new police vehicles

Those budget cuts impacted operations at the police department and limited the department’s ability to replace aging vehicles.

In the Jan. 4 memo, Foster said the department had identified 15 vehicles that needed to be replaced. He also said the lack of a janitor to clean the police department had a detrimental impact on officers’ morale, especially after officers learned that the city’s multicultural center janitor was cleaning the Motor Vehicle Division and Municipal Courts portions of the building they share with the police department.

In the Jan. 4, 2017, memo, Foster said the city approved requests for three new police vehicles during the budget process for the fiscal year 2017 budget. That later was reduced to two, then one and then no cars. Instead, Foster said the city used the funds to purchase a lawn mower and a work truck for the municipal operations center. He said the money for the three cars was created by leaving an officer position vacant.

“The salary savings created from leaving the officer position open were removed from Police Department budget and ultimately, the position was frozen as well,” Foster wrote. “We then spent thousands of dollars to bring one of our non-running police cars back to operational condition, including the installation of an entire engine.”

Foster said in the memo that patrol vehicles should be retired at 100,000 miles because the cars need to be able to operate safely at high speeds and during high g-turns. He said if the department was to follow the national standard, it would have only five vehicles appropriate for patrol duties.

“Over the weekend, one of our newest police cruisers, a 2012 Dodge Charger, lost its engine,” Foster wrote. “MOC is towing it to Farmington as I write this memo. That leaves me another vehicle short and I am rapidly running out of solutions. I am now forced to give up my assigned police vehicle once again so that patrol will have enough vehicles to operate. That will leave me unable to respond to calls for service which occurs frequently now since our staffing has been cut from 22 full-time officers to 18 full-time officers and we have had several in training.”

Foster: Police officers doing janitorial duties in building

In the same memo, Foster requested that the former janitor for the police building be rehired.

Foster stated that he requested during the budget-cutting process that the janitor remain on staff because “she was part-time and low-paid, but performed a much needed function at the Police Department.”

Foster said the police department agreed to give up a part-time position, as well as approximately $40,000 in funding to keep the janitor on staff.

“Within a month, she was slated for lay-off anyway,” he said in the memo.

Foster said that meant police had to tend to the building's cleanliness, including the bathrooms.

He said he learned that the multicultural center’s janitor was assigned to clean the courts and motor vehicle division, which share the building with the police department. However, that janitor was not assigned to clean the police department.

“As you can imagine this is having a detrimental effect on police department morale and their feeling that the city supports them,” Foster wrote.

Foster recommended downgrading a position that was about to become vacant to a mechanic position and using the remaining funds to rehire the janitor.

Pay raise intended to retain officers

In December, Foster requested a pay raise for the officers to bring their pay closer to what other law enforcement agencies in the area pay. The pay raise for the officers came only after Foster had left this year and the City Council approved the raises in an effort to retain officers.

The Bloomfield Police Department’s numbers have dwindled over the course of the year.

In a statement issued by Mayor Cynthia Atencio in September, she stated the city started the year with 18 officers and had since lost five officers.

Bloomfield struggles to recruit new officers

In January, Foster sent a memo highlighting the challenges of filling positions. He said the department was struggling to find good, certified candidates to fill the openings. He said hiring an uncertified candidate in January would mean sending the cadet to the academy starting in August. The cadet also would be required to complete 14 weeks of field training. Foster stated that cadet would not be a benefit to the police department until April 2019 if he or she was hired in January 2018.

Foster said training would cost between $130,000 and $150,000, and the city also would have to pay overtime to other officers filling the position.

“And, that expense comes only if we are able to actually find a good candidate for this position,” Foster stated.

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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