Retirement incentive leaves U.P. short-staffed, working long shifts

Police overtime 10/28/11
Graphic by Patrick Freebern

Four university police officers retired from the Oswego State department in the fall of 2010, resulting in an increased amount of overtime pay and shift changes.

From August to November of 2010, the department was paid $17, 886 in overtime, an increase from $11,182.92 for the same time during the previous year.

According to University Police Chief Cynthia Adam, the governor’s office offered an incentive for retirement last spring. The window of opportunity lasted until Sept. 29, 2010.

“It took the department by surprise,” Adam said. “So we couldn’t start the hiring process sooner.”

The hiring process itself takes over a year.

According to the union representative, Officer Matthew Barbeau, in September of 2010 the following individuals retired from our department: Lt. Michael Taylor, Lt. Kirk Coates, Lt. Geri Bosco, and Officer Dave Scott.

“Lt. Taylor was the acting Administrative Lieutenant at the time of his retirement,” Barbeau said. “Lt. Coates and Lt. Bosco were the shift supervisors for the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., respectively. Scott worked the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift and was responsible for conducting many of the different educational programs we offer on campus.”

The department had to make changes to the schedules and responsibilities of the staff when those officers retired.

“We were wise about that,” Adam said. “We did not want to run shifts without enough staffing. We put safety first. The remaining staff members volunteered to work 12 hour shifts without overtime. They had more days off, but longer periods without rest.”

The changes affected many of the officers differently.

“I can’t speak for the other officers,” Barbeau said. “But for me, personally, I’d say the largest con is the fact that a 12 hour shift is quite long. It took some adjustment initially to get used to working such long hours. The biggest pro in my opinion is that we only work 7 days in a 14 day pay period. This allows for more time off to spend with our families.”

Even though losing four officers meant that everyone left on the staff had to do more work, everything that needed to be done was completed.

“Between cases solved and traffic tickets issued, the job was getting done,” Lt. Kevin Velzy said. “Surprisingly, we managed. We found a way to work through it.”

Although they were managing, the department brought four new officers onto the staff recently.

“Two officers graduated from the Watertown Academy last spring,” Velzy said. “There is also an officer that was formerly an Ontario County Deputy, so we didn’t have to have him do any field training.”

One officer graduated from the Syracuse academy two weeks ago. Another officer will graduate from the Elmira academy soon.

The potential hires are expected to undergo psychological, emotional and vision tests, 1,000 hours of instruction in a police academy, multiple interviews and 12 weeks of on-site training. The Ontario County Deputy did not need to go to the police academy because he was already trained.

“All in all,” Adam said. “This process takes over a year to complete.”

Although the incentive was only offered to some state agencies, it created an exodus out of state service. According to Adam, it affected departments across the board. Some small agencies were absorbed. Other agencies were forced to give up critical services that helped the officers do their jobs.

On Oct. 11, Air 1, a helicopter, was cut from Onondaga Police Department’s budget.

“This affects us because they are the closest department to us that has those things. Without them, we’ll have to rely on the state department, which is far away,” Adam said.

Other departments were forced to depend on other SUNY school departments for help. The governor’s office requested Oswego State University Police to assist with the effects of Hurricane Irene in New York City. They sent three officers to help the National Guard.

“I want a department streamlined enough to be able to assist others in the event of a natural disaster,” Adam said.

Once the new officers are in place, the union will look into returning the department to eight-hour shifts. Adam is optimistic about the future.

“One of the things I’m doing is trying to get my department out there, connected to this community,” Adam said. “The positive thing about the retirement is moving forward.”

The state’s determination to help reduce costs ultimately resulted in a crippled system. UP is taking care of business, but not without sacrifice.

“I’ve been a state employee since 1983,” Adam said. “I’ve never seen some of what the governor is being faced with in terms of shortcomings.”