By Thomas Garcia
Four police officer recruits were maced on Thursday.
ï¿½It burns so bad, I have a entire new level of respect for mace,ï¿½ Robert Vargas, a recruit, said.
Getting maced is part of the training experience for recruits who want to become officers with the Tucumcari Police Department.
The four men in training are Vargas, Carlos Gallegos, Chris Valdez and Lorenzo Emillo.
They are in their second week of a 13-week training program which includes traffic stop procedures, legal updates, use-of-force training and firearm manipulation and qualification.
ï¿½The training has been good, a lot better than what I thought it would be like,ï¿½ Vargas said.
Police consultant Daniel Lopez said the added manpower will benefit the residents and the department.
When the new recruits join the force, the department will have a total of 14 officers.
ï¿½The new officers will mean better protection for the residents of Tucumcari and a cut in overtime spending by the department,ï¿½ Lopez said.
ï¿½We have exhausted over 50 percent of our overtime budget in the first fiscal quarter,ï¿½ Lopez said, ï¿½That is a direct result of covering shift shortages.ï¿½
Of the $1,374,158 for the 2007-2008 budget for the department, six percent or $83,225 is allocated for overtime, Lopez said.
Forty-six percent of the budget, or $633,179, is for officers salaries and the remainder is for department expenses such as insurance, dispatcher salaries and other costs, Lopez said.
Once the new recruits complete the program overtime costs will diminish, Lopez said.
When the officers complete the first phase of training, they are partnered with a veteran officer for 10-weeks of on-the-job training, Lopez said.
Even with the new recruits, the department will be two officers short of a full complement of officers.
The department is doing all it can to fill those positions to run at full strength. The shortage of officers is a problem that is challenging departments across the state and nation, Lopez said.
ï¿½We are trying to recruit two certified officers that will have an immediate presence,ï¿½ Lopez said. ï¿½Smaller towns like Tucumcari have a harder time finding officers because we do not have the large population base to draw from.ï¿½
The new recruits will bring much needed relief to the cityï¿½s overworked officers, veteran officer Lt. Patricia Lopez said.
ï¿½Even though they will not be ready to go out on their own for several weeks, the new officers will help out a great deal,ï¿½ Patricia Lopez said.
The current force has been working 12-hour shifts for most of the year, Patricia Lopez said. ï¿½Many have been unable to take a vacation due to lack of personnel. These new officers will help cut back on overtime and officer burnout.ï¿½