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.