In a landmark decision, the county commissioners of Bernalillo County, New Mexico, approved a significant pay raise for the deputies of the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), making them the highest paid law enforcement officers in the state.
The new contract, which received unanimous approval on June 6, includes substantial raises and attractive hiring bonuses to address the department’s ongoing challenges of attrition and recruitment.
Effective July 1, BCSO first-class deputies will earn an hourly wage of $35.72 — a 17% increase. In addition to the raise, new hires will receive a $10,000 hiring bonus, while lateral hires with prior law enforcement experience at other agencies can cash in on a $15,000 bonus.
Officials say the move was a response to increased attrition rates, early retirements and recruitment difficulties over the past few years.
The BCSO has also struggled to keep up with salary levels at other agencies, including the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).
“What I was worried about is if we didn’t get the raise,” BCSO Sheriff John Allen stated. “Money talks, that’s just the bottom line.”
The new pay structure will enable BCSO to offer more competitive salaries to new hires, surpassing those offered by other agencies in the area.
While the starting salary for a second-class deputy currently stands at $23.66 per hour, lower than that of a second-class police officer at the APD, and new officers at Hobbs and Las Cruces police departments, BCSO deputies will quickly outpace their counterparts as they progress into the first-class classification.
During the June 6 meeting, Commissioner Walt Benson expressed his concern that BCSO deputies were being “cannibalized” by other agencies with higher pay scales. Benson believes the approved raises are beneficial for recruitment efforts.
According to Allen, the BCSO is currently facing a shortage of 47 deputies, which places extra strain on the existing workforce.
“It trickles down,” Allen said. “I can’t place people in specialty units, such as detectives. So, after a while, it becomes a fire that’s just been burning in the pit. … You start to burn all those detectives out that keep getting called out to the violent crimes and homicides — and there’s really no relief for them.”
The move also follows an announcement from the APD stating that positions such as cadets, patrolmen, lateral officers and police service aides will receive raises from 5% to 37% of their current salaries.
“As we push out new incentives, you see other agencies follow suit pretty quickly, because they just have to,” APD Lieutenant Jacob Hoisington said.
“We have to compete,” Allen stated. “I would love in the next year, just to get up up–hire at least 30. I did ask for 10 deputies over if we ever get there because you have to factor in attrition and retirements also.”
In dealing with the current staffing shortage over the past year, the BCSO has incurred substantial overtime costs, particularly for county court deputies. Last year alone, the department paid $1.1 million in overtime for court deputies. Insufficient staffing in this area necessitates regular deputies to fill in, further stretching the department’s resources.
Allen stressed the importance of increasing the base salary to reduce dependency on overtime pay. He noted that the raise would have a significant impact.
“There’s always going to be overtime, but you should never depend on overtime to live. That’s just a benefit,” he said “So bumping up that base salary is huge.”
Since the announcement of the negotiations for higher wages, the BCSO has observed an increase in applications, with some employees even delaying their retirements to capitalize on the pay increases.
Allen also added that he hopes the pay raise will boost morale in the department.
“You have to pay your people correctly, and everyone talks about morale,” he said. “Morale is very important when you know that you can pay your bills and do some a little extra with it.”
Both the BCSO and the APD acknowledged that they aim to strike a balance between offering attractive incentives upfront while ensuring officers remain committed to serving the public.