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March 1, 2014

OPD vacancies may go unfilled

Police chief, union split on 12-hour shift schedule

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The Oneonta Police Department has four vacancies, but only up to two will be filled under a proposal to be considered by the Common Council on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, the city’s police chief and union disagree on whether to continue coverage with patrol officers working 12-hour shifts, and the union president said the scheduling issue has become part of contract negotiations.

Police officers have been working the longer shifts, instead of daily eight-hour shifts, since a trial period began in September.

A resolution to hire two police officers is on the agenda of the Oneonta Common Council for its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Fiscal constraints, including less-than-expected sales tax revenues in 2013, and recommendations by the police chief were primary factors leading to the Human Resources Committee’s proposal to hire two instead of four officers, Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller said Friday.

However, the mayor said, the number of officers to be hired is open for discussion by council members, who expressed various views on staffing and fiscal reserve levels during budget talks late last year.

In developing the 2014 budget, council members debated whether to keep four unfilled public safety positions — two each in the police and fire departments. All four positions were maintained, however, City Manager Michael Long warned that city staff might have to be cut in years ahead.

Council members Bob Brzozowski of the Seventh Ward and Chip Holmes of the Eighth Ward voted against the 2014 budget proposal because they said it didn’t go far enough to address personnel costs and preserve the city’s reserves.

The police department is authorized for 27 positions: detectives, sergeants, a lieutenant, the chief and patrol officers. The department is subject to turnover as officers find opportunities with state police and other law enforcement agencies and retirements take effect.

On Friday, Miller estimated each police position cost $65,000 to $75,000 with benefits, and maintaining two of the four vacancies would be a savings for at least this year.

Detective Eric Berger, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said the union would like to see all four vacancies filled. Community policing becomes more difficult with fewer numbers, he said.

Nayor became police chief in April 2012, taking the helm from an interim chief hired after the department wrestled with separate cases charging police brutality and on-duty patrol officers allegedly involved in a sex scandal. Nayor promptly clarified and promoted a personnel hiring policy on quality and suitability of officers over the quantity in the ranks.

On Friday in regards to the motion before the council, Nayor said two applicants ranked as strong candidates and a third applicant’s background check still is underway.

“I’m OK with quality over quantity — I will make it work,” Nayor said. The chief, who plans to attend Tuesday’s meeting in City Hall, said he has no control over the city’s budget but has to work within its parameters.

“The department still will be better with the right personnel,” Nayor said. “Quality and suitability are always most important.”

Nayor, who had been neutral about the 12-hour shift before the trial, voiced objections Friday.

In early September, the police department began a three-month trial to test the impact 12-hour shifts. Under the schedule, three officers would work starting at either 8 a.m. or 8 p.m., and officers would work two days, then have three days off.

At the beginning of this year, the trial was extended another three months.

Nayor said the 12-hour shift scheduling hasn’t worked from an administrative perspective. Nayor said he is concerned about levels of alertness, the duration of hours and a lack of flexibility in scheduling officers after shifts end when needs arise.

“I am not in support of 12-hour shifts,” Nayor said. “We’re going to move on and experiment with some other options.”

Nayor said he recognizes officers’ interest in having time for family life and wants to balance staff morale with department needs, particularly focusing on his major concerns of safety of the officers and of the community.

Options may include scheduling shifts between eight and 12 hours, Nayor said, but a timetable hasn’t been determined.

“I’m trying to figure out a positive alternative,” Nayor said.

The chief said he isn’t a participant in ongoing contract negotiations with the unions representing police officers and sergeants.

Berger said the majority of officers in the union like the the 12-hour shifts.

“It seems to have boosted morale,” he said, and indications are that sick leave has decreased.

Berger refused to comment further as the topic is pending in negotiations, which he said “are moving forward” to replace a contract that expired Dec. 31.

Miller declined to comment on the 12-hour shift trial.