By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Need to call the cops?
Outside of the towns with their own police departments, you may have to wait a while.
“We’re at a point where 911 has no cars to give the calls to,” Undersheriff Eric Chaboty told legislators Thursday.
“There’s been some instances where we’ve been very thin,” admitted Sheriff Michael Schiff. “… A lot of times we’re putting out only two, maybe three, patrols on the road.”
That goes for both the Sheriff’s Office and the State Police.
Recently, said Schiff, the State Police had no one to send to an emergency call and passed it on to the Sheriff’s Office which only had one deputy on patrol for the county’s entire 1,000 square miles.
Part of the problem, he added, is that he’s losing officers to neighboring departments which offer better pay. One patrol deputy just left for Monticello, Schiff said, and immediately bumped his income up by $12,000.
Of the 38 uniformed officer positions budgeted for the patrol division, 24 are filled, with people on active patrol duty. Four more officers are either out on leave or on light duty due to injuries, while six others are assigned elsewhere (i.e., as investigators), said Chaboty.
That leaves four full-time vacancies, which Schiff said can’t be filled immediately, as new hires must first go through the state academy, a six-month education that doesn’t begin until March.
Budget cuts sliced five deputies over the past four years, and Schiff said the last full-time patrol deputy was hired by the Sheriff’s Office in 2009. He’s now leaving for a higher-paying job, too.
Officers on overtime plus temporary summertime help have filled in the gaps, and 911 Coordinator Alex Rau told the Democrat that calls continue to be answered but he agreed that it can be challenging at times to find an officer available to respond.
Meanwhile, State Police Supt. Joseph D’Amico told Schiff in a July letter that he won’t be able to increase troopers in Sullivan County next year, due to state budget cuts and attrition.
And five years of contract wrangling between the county and deputies isn’t helping.
“I don’t think we’re done losing people,” Schiff warned legislators. “… We’re going to have a manpower problem. It’s coming up hard and fast.”
So at Thursday’s Personnel Committee meeting, he asked legislators to allow him to create five temporary (90-day) patrol deputy positions, with their terms of service staggered so as to provide sufficient officers until the new batch of academy graduates can take over next year.
A resolution is being prepared for a vote later this month.
“I don’t think this is an issue we can wait on,” urged Legislator Ira Steingart, who said the estimated $60,000 cost for the temporary officers (who won’t accrue benefits) is covered in the current budget.
But he agreed with Legislator Cora Edwards that the matter needs to be further addressed in the 2013 budget possibly leading to renewed contract discussions.
“I think a long-term issue there is the hemorrhage due to the pay [disparity],” Edwards observed.
It’s a move Teamsters Union rep Sandy Shaddock indicated she’d welcome.
“We are a stepping stone [to higher-paying positions elsewhere],” she lamented.
As a result, “there’s definitely a shortage of law enforcement in Sullivan County,” she assessed. “... It is seriously a problem for the public.”