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N.M. Dept. Reduces Cruiser Commuting Distance

July 13--The city of Santa Fe appears to be on the verge of reaching an agreement with its police union to decrease the distance officers can commute on the city's dime.

Under the proposed policy, new hires can travel up to 15 miles to and from work in their patrol cars using citypaid fuel.

However, current police officers would be grandfathered in under the existing rule, which allows them to drive up to 60 miles each way.

The new policy will be incorporated into the city's annual police union contract agreement.

Police union president Adam Gallegos said the union agreed to the change because it recognizes the financial impact of the program on the city.

If the take-home policy was eliminated altogether, the city would likely lose "quite a few people" to positions in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and other cities, he said. As it is, Santa Fe will probably have a tougher time recruiting officers, Gallegos said.

"I am fairly sure the membership will accept this," he said. "The Police Officers Association's only concern is in future recruitment, but retention is just as important (as recruitment) if not more important."

City Manager Robert Romero declined to comment.

The City Council, following an executive session discussion, appeared to approve the contract and take-home policy Wednesday night, but it's unclear if that's the governing body's last word on the matter.

The police union is scheduled to discuss the contract today and will vote on it at a later date.

Gallegos said the contract would then go back to the City Council for final approval, though Romero said that's not necessary.

The city created the takehome program in 2003, largely as a way to make jobs in Santa Fe more attractive to potential police recruits.

In 2010, the City Council, citing changes in the economy and questions about the policy's effectiveness, ordered a review of the program. The conversation has waxed and waned since then.

Currently, about 44 of the city's 150 or so police officers live within Santa Fe city limits, according to recent statistics compiled by the Police Department. Another 44 or so live outside the city but within 15 miles of its boundaries, while around 57 live outside the 15-mile radius. The department is still trying to account for a handful of officers.

Total commuting costs for the latter 57 officers is about $160,868, according to Police Department officials. The largest individual expenses are officers living in Las Vegas, N.M., who rack up around $4,338 a year each in commuting costs.

This spring, the City Council considered a proposal to increase pay for officers living in Santa Fe or within 15 miles of city limits.

The resolution also referred to implementing a maximum distance of 15 miles for new officers taking home their police vehicles.

The measure was withdrawn when police department personnel said it could create morale problems and other issues, and non-police city employees complained about not getting the benefit.

Copyright 2012 - Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

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