Former Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen Calls Police Department Situation a Crisis

Chris Mathiesen served three terms as the Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Public Safety. He copied me on an email he sent to the City Council. It reaffirms the concerns many of us have about the crisis our police department seems to be experiencing.

Members of the City Council,

I was very surprised to hear during the PBA Presentation to the Council on Tuesday evening that the SSPD has 20 unfilled slots.  That’s very alarming and, as far as I know, without precedent.  None of the concessions to the PBA proposed by Commissioner Montagnino will remedy this situation any time soon.  Given the fact that the City is now entering its busiest season,  this is truly a public safety emergency.   I would suggest that a Public Safety Emergency be declared immediately with all City businesses that serve alcohol being required to close at 2 AM on weekends and 1 AM on weeknights until further notice.   Those last call restrictions are consistent with those in other counties across New York State.

During the PBA Presentation, I was surprised that more questions were not asked by Council members.  Why are the reasons that the PBA contract signed barely more than a year ago not include these concessions?   Is there any possibility of keeping the present contract with the 12 hour shift?  Have any consultants been contacted to see if the 12 hour shift system can be tweaked to make it more workable?   Has the City’s Human Resource Department been consulted in order to better explain why so many members of the SSPD have retired or moved to other departments so suddenly?  How did the SSPD salary schedule become so non-competitive with other local police departments and why did this occur?   Can the salary schedule be re-worked so that it is competitive with other local departments and the County sheriff’s department?  Are there other reasons for losing SSPD personnel over such a short period of time?  Why were the number of training sessions previously cut?  What are the costs to the City payroll of having 52 days a year (Thursdays) where the SSPD would be overstaffed as proposed with the 10 hour schedule?     Could there be a better explanation of the disadvantages of lateral transfers?

I am quite familiar with SSPD personnel management from 2012 through 2017.  We had very qualified applicants interviewed and we could be quite choosey in determining who to hire.  Once carefully vetted, most of those candidates made it through the Training Academy and eventually stayed with our department.   Very few transferred to other departments.   Our department was thought to be a desirable place to work for a police officer.   Our pay scale, opportunity for overtime and our benefit package was at least on par if not better that of other local police agencies and of the sheriff’s department.  Isn’t it important to determine exactly what has happened to suddenly make the SSPD such an undesirable place to work?

We were eternally challenged when it came to filling all 72 slots in the department.  Just when we thought that we were close to our goal, someone else would retire or, in rare instances, leave the department for other reasons.  However, we never had anywhere near 20 vacancies.  We instituted the 1 year and 6 month bonus payments to those who gave prior notice of retirement so that those anticipated vacancies could be filled more efficiently.  We did reluctantly utilize a lateral transfer once in order to quickly fill a slot but that worked out quite badly.  I can relate to the difficulty of keeping all slots in the department filled but I cannot relate to a vacancy of 20 positions. 

Please take my comments as constructive criticism.  I know what it’s like to be subjected to unfair and constant criticism.  I have grave concerns about a department that, at one time, worked so well and is so vital to the success of our City.

Chris Mathiesen

7 thoughts on “Former Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen Calls Police Department Situation a Crisis”

  1. No question Councilman Montagnino made things worse but when did those 20 vacancies come about?

    Saratoga BLM held the previous city council basically hostage every meeting and did nothing but trash our local police force for over a year. We had one Back the Blue march but we are going to have to show a lot more support and respect for them in order to fill those 20 slots. Maybe the previous Public Safety Commissioner can help with a timeline of how we got to 20 vacancies.
    (how many did Councilman Montagnino cause, how many caused by the continued trashing by Saratoga BLM)

    I agree with everything Chris outlined above. Chris needs to replace Montagnino now, not in a year and a half.

    And one last thought, no one should be on the new CRB from Saratoga BLM. (watch the video’s on this site, please)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “We had one Back the Blue march but we are going to have to show a lot more support and respect for them in order to fill those 20 slots. ”

      Why does the public need to have marches to fill good paying positions? I don’t see any marches for DPW workers or firemen. Being a police officer is a job, and shouldn’t require public lionization. According to OSHA, being a roofer, constructions worker, airline pilot/engineer, waste collector, delivery driver, and farmer are all a more dangerous job. Do they all need parades too?

      How much police are funded, how they approach certain situations (especially involving minorities), how they are militarized, and their effectiveness is all being debated around the country, so it’s not like Saratoga is unique in having this dialogue. Without getting all the exit interview information it’s going to be hard to know exactly why people left, and may be due to multiple factors, but we’ve already heard from one former member who left that it was because of Montagnino. His style seems incompatible with the PD, and from the outside the steps he’s taken look like they would drive people out, especially if they have other options. Comparable pay doesn’t mean much if leadership stinks. I look forward to him no longer being in office, and hope the Dems bring someone different in for the next election.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Andy, I have been here for over 30 years and don’t recall ranting protestors calling DPW workers or firemen “racists, murdering bastards” Do you? Vocal public support and respect is not public lionization.

        We agree that Montagnino made a bad situation much worse.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I absolutely agree that all businesses that serve alcohol should close at 2 am on weekdays and 1 am on weekends. The good sense of this should be obvious to anyone.
    It hasn’t closed any of these businesses in other counties. With an understaffed police department, it seems the most sensible thing to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If you look at the city website there’s no evidence of the police department EVER having 80 filled slots. Ever. Chris published years of reports where the number of officers was 72 which is the highest on record. 80 is a fable.

    Liked by 1 person

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