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New Mexico launches fund to train new police officers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico hopes to bolster the ranks of small law enforcement agencies around the state with a new fund that will be dedicated to helping with the costs of training and equipping new police officers.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other officials gathered Tuesday in Albuquerque to announce the fund. With an initial investment of $800,000 through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, state officials estimate they will have enough to support training for 80 new officers.

New Mexico Department of Public Safety Secretary Jason Bowie acknowledged that law enforcement agencies across the state and elsewhere in the U.S. are struggling with recruiting and retaining officers.

"This effort to incentivize the recruitment of police officers aims to address head-on the shortfall in police officers and will serve to decrease crime in many cities across New Mexico, in turn increasing the quality of life for New Mexicans," he said in a statement.

Public safety is among the top issues in this year's gubernatorial campaign, as New Mexico has struggled with persistently high violent crime rates that have outpaced the national average for years.

Legislative analysts also have reported that New Mexico had fewer officers per capita than the national average at the beginning of last year and would need to hire more than 400 officers to reach the national rate.

Lujan Grisham, who is running for reelection, has been touting her efforts to boost pay for law enforcement. With the state flush with cash, the first-term Democrat won legislative support earlier this year for pay raises for state police officers and for the creation of a fund to provide periodic retention bonuses.

Her opponent, Republican Mark Ronchetti, has pointed to declining morale among police officers, saying they need more support to do their jobs. He also has said he would push for legislation to stiffen criminal penalties and make it easier to hold defendants in jail pending trial.

Lujan Grisham was unsuccessful in her push of legislation to address what many have described as a revolving door by detaining people charged with certain violent crimes until trial. Some Democrats in the Senate blocked the proposal, arguing that it would do little to reduce crime.