NM chief, officers at odds over shift dispute
Chief Ray Rael said that officers in the department are taking sick leave to subvert his decision to move to a five-day workweek
By Daniel J. Chacón
The Santa Fe New Mexican
SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael said Wednesday that he has evidence to support his claim that officers in the department are taking sick leave to subvert his decision to move to a five-day workweek.
"We're in the process of conducting a thorough evaluation. But I can tell you that a cursory evaluation has identified some trends by certain officers that cause me concern," Rael said.
"There are sick leave usage indications where some officers are perhaps calling in sick in conjunction with days off more frequently than would be expected," he added.
Rael said there is a 30 percent increase in sick leave, but police Sgt. Adam Gallegos, president of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association, said in an email, "In order for that to be true, it would take a massive conspiracy...
"This is simply not the case and [the union's] fear is that this Halloween, Chief Rael has gone on a witch hunt to justify his ridiculous accusation and will now target a very small/miniscule number of officers who may have used sick leave one too many times in conjunction with their days off."
Officers say they prefer four 10-hour days, but Rael insists his decision to move to five eight-hour days is not only more efficient but also has reduced property crime in Santa Fe.
"My job as I understood it when I took this job was to ensure that I provided the most efficient services possible to the citizens of Santa Fe. I feel I have done that," Rael said.
City Councilor Chris Rivera said last week that he hopes Rael and the police union can hammer out a compromise. But if they can't, Rivera may take matters into his own hands.
City officials have asked for a side-by-side comparison of the pros and cons of both work schedules. But Rivera said he is considering a resolution calling for the police department to move back to four 10-hour workdays.
"I hate getting involved in matters like that, but I would consider presenting a resolution that asks the police department to go back to the four 10s schedule for retention issues, as well as hiring new personnel or even looking at getting transfers in," Rivera said.
Rivera said he doesn't want property crime to go up, but he isn't quite sure how the new schedule explains the reduction.
A former fire chief, Rivera said he doesn't believe it's the City Council's role to tell the police chief what work schedule to implement, which is why he hopes Rael and the union can work out a solution.
He added that he would "probably have had a hard time" if the council had gotten involved in such a way when he was fire chief.
"I've been through his," he said, adding that he sought the input of his employees when he implemented a new shift change at the fire department. "We went through a whole process of figuring out what was best for everyone. In the end, we put it to a vote for everyone in the department," he said.
The decision was to switch from 24 hours on, 24 hours off, to 48 hours on and 96 hours off for a year and then evaluate the new schedule.
"We tried it. They loved it. They loved the shift. I don't think they would ever go back. It was just a matter of coming together and collaborating on a new idea," he said.
Rivera said he understands the reasons Rael moved to a different shift, including budget constraints, but added that he's not sure officers had much say in the matter. "From what I can tell, morale is down," he said.
"I'm not sure it's really a cost savings because leave has gone up."
Rael said he wouldn't "venture into guessing what a councilor should or shouldn't do," but that he believes scheduling is a "management right."
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