- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The mayor of New Mexico’s largest city says return-to-work legislation for law enforcement could help shore up the ranks of Albuquerque’s understaffed police department.

Mayor Richard Berry told the Albuquerque Journal (https://goo.gl/cNU6ZE ) this week that the proposal also would give smaller cities and counties a larger hiring pool.

The legislation would open a narrow exception to laws that discourage double dipping by allowing municipal police officers, New Mexico State Police and undersheriffs to retire for a brief period and then return to work without having to suspend their pensions.

Berry said city officials estimate about 150 APD officers could take advantage of the legislation in the next two years and return to work after retiring. Berry said the officers’ experience would be crucial as the department works on reforms resulting from a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, which found APD had a pattern of using excessive force.

“It’s hard to overstate how important (the legislation) is for Albuquerque police and our city,” he said. “We need experienced officers.”

Critics of the bill say the practice would change retirement behavior and threaten the future of the state employees’ retirement fund.

Wayne Propst, the executive director of the New Mexico Public Employees Retirement Association, for example, said the group is opposed to the bill, due largely to concerns that it could undermine 2013 solvency measures adopted to shore up the cash-strapped retirement system.

Although Propst said a review of the legislation’s financial impact to the fund has not been completed, he said allowing certain law enforcement officers to double dip would have a definite impact.

“One thing return-to-work will certainly do is change retirement behavior,” said Propst, who predicted employees would likely retire as soon as they are eligible.

He also said there is already a built-in incentive for police officers to stay on the job, as the 2013 solvency legislation increased the maximum retirement benefits employees can accrue if they postpone retirement.

“This is essentially using a pension plan to resolve a labor-employment issue,” Propst told the Journal.

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


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