- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Retired police officers could be back on the job as Albuquerque officials try to deal with a severe staff shortage.

Mayor Richard Berry will lobby state lawmakers next month to approve legislation allowing retired officers to come back but continue to draw from their pension.

The proposal would limit the number of participating officers, and the practice would be phased out within a few years, Berry told the Albuquerque Journal (https://bit.ly/1vOO6oT ).

“We’re willing to work with (the state) to craft a bill that protects the solvency of (the state’s Public Employees Retirement Association) while making public safety a priority and protecting our families and our property,” Berry said.

Experienced officers will be needed as Albuquerque tries to roll out reforms required under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, Barry added.

The Legislature banned “double dipping,” or collecting salary and a pension simultaneously, in 2010 because of concerns about draining state retirement accounts. Police officers can earn a salary and pension if they work for a tribal government or an education institution. But those agencies are not part of the state retirement plan that municipal police use.

Albuquerque has already lost 20 percent of its police force - more than 200 officers - since 2010. A wave of pending retirements could leave department staffing at a 25-year low. The mayor and other city officials said their goal is to recruit 1,000 officers.

Berry said the police chief would be tasked with approving which retirees are eligible to return to work. Any returnees would have to consent to working on patrol and would make the normal salary for a patrol officer, roughly $56,000 a year. That would be in addition to an estimated pension of $42,000.

The state’s Public Employees Retirement Association says there are incentives in place that could entice officers to postpone retirement. But the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association said some officers also are considering retirement because of recent media attention on police tactics and the Justice Department investigation.

Police and Justice Department officials recently held briefings over the agreement, which is awaiting approval from a federal judge. Some officers expressed anger over how the Justice Department investigated police. The agreement calls for new training and protocols for investigating officer shootings. It also calls for the agency to dismantle troubled units.

The mayor last year supported a proposal to create a special account for officers who deferred retirement. But that idea did not move past the state level.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com

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