Over the past couple of months there has been quite a bit written about the Village of Brockport Police Department relative to the laying off of police officers and the elimination of shifts. A number of these articles, including the one in City ("Cops on Trial," March 31), contained numerous quotes, opinions, and theories but few facts.
I have been at the Brockport Police Department for the past two years and am now into my third budget process. Once again the police department --- which represents approximately 24 percent of the 2003-2004 village budget, excluding benefits --- is being blamed for 100 percent of the budget problem, and village residents will suffer if there is an elimination of a police shift or a reduction in police presence. While I agree that the Village of Brockport Department of Public Works is understaffed, so too is the Brockport Police Department, and it has been for a number of years.
To understand the present staffing problem of the police department, one needs to realize that in 1991 village board members reduced the full-time police force by 29 percent when they laid off 4 police officers. They did this under the pretext that it would save taxpayers money. Unfortunately, what it did was reduce the salary line of the remaining police officers but at the same time dramatically increase the overtime line.
If other police departments laid off 29 percent of their officers, or any organization reduced its work force by 29 percent but still did the same amount of work, what their overtime budget would be. In other police departments, overtime is expended for investigations, special events, and unforeseen instances requiring additional staffing, and not on maintaining day-to-day operations as in the Brockport Police Department.
Following this 29 percent reduction, the Brockport police union, through negotiations with the village, agreed to add what has become known as minimum staffing language in the contract. On numerous occasions, certain board members have publicly called this minimum staffing requirement a "flaw" in the contract. They have also publicly stated that the union needs to correct this flaw.
The contract that was just recently ratified by a 4-1 village board vote --- one that I did not endorse --- will allow a part-time officer to work in the absence of a full-time officer on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. To utilize this provision of the contract, the Village of Brockport will have to employ at least eight part-time police officers.
The department currently has only three part-time officers, and one of the three will be leaving within the next two weeks for a full-time position in another police department. We will have to hire an additional 10 part-time police officers (10 because it would not be unusual for four of the 10 to fail to pass the rigid training period). This will cost the Village of Brockport $18,000 per officer or a total of $180,000.00.
There is no guarantee as to how long the part-time officers will stay with the department, or that the officers will be available and willing to work at a minute's notice (many part-time police officers have full-time jobs), or how many hours the officers will be willing to work. During the negotiation process, I asked one of the two village negotiators what I was to do if a part-time officer was not willing to work a certain number of hours a week. I was told that I could take that person off the schedule and no longer employ them.
Did anyone think of the training, equipment, time, energy, and taxpayer money that would be wasted to just remove someone from our employment? Did anyone think of how much money it would take to advertise, interview, train, and equip another part-time officer so that the same thing will happen again and again?
For the past two budget years, I have repeatedly shown --- based on studies, not opinions --- how hiring two additional full-time officers (about $75,000 each, including benefits) would be far less expensive than incurring $225,000 in annual overtime cost or the cost associated with hiring part-time officers.
As I have stated, under the new contract I have the option of filling a Sunday-Monday-Tuesday position with a part-time officer. If one of the eight part-time officers (at a cost of $18,000 each) is not willing to work I must fill the position with a full-time officer on overtime (right back to the same old problem). This is not only fiscally irresponsible, it's cheating the taxpayer out of money that can be saved.
For five fiscal years, the budget contained only a small portion of what was routinely spent on overtime. Why would someone continually misrepresent the budget for five consecutive years? People on the board have repeatedly stated that it's not good practice to hire during negotiations. If that were the case, what was the reasoning for not hiring for the past five years? Furthermore, it's never a bad time to save taxpayers money. If my previously proposed budgets were implemented, the Village of Brockport would have saved about $30,000 annually.
Why is the Brockport Police Department the center of the budgetary problem year after year? Whether the police department budget is 24 percent (without benefits) or 34 percent (including benefits), between 66 and 76 percent of the budget is spent on other departments. Why is the police department the only department exploited in the media?
The police department is projected to exceed its budget by less than 4 percent, and would have come in well under its budget had the two officers been hired. The total general government support budget was exceeded by 38 percent, the transportation budget by 14 percent, the health budget by 24 percent, the Culture and Recreation budget by 13 percent, and the Home and Community Service budget by 16 percent.
I'm confident that if you were to look more closely at the departments that make up these various categories you would find that various department budgets were exceeded by sometimes as much as 60, 70, and even 800 percent (no, this isn't a misprint).
Why is the police department blamed for the fiscal woes of the village?
The figures above are not meant to demean or second-guess anyone but rather to compare the police department to other departments in the village and to hold everyone to the same standard. For this to happen, everyone needs to forget the past, hold people accountable for what they do today rather than what someone else did to you yesterday, stop making decisions for self-serving reasons, and start building for the future and doing what is best for the people we work for and represent: the taxpayer.