BETHLEHEM In December of 2014 Supervisor John Clarkson announced changes in police overtime policies would be introduced to the Bethlehem Police Department in 2015.
“This is not about the police officers, but improving management. The Town Board has been talking about, scrutinized and been concerned about overtime for more than a decade,” said Clarkson at the time, adding that changes were being made throughout the town.
In 2013, a consultant hired by the town determined the police department accrued $1.4 million in overtime, and went over its overtime budget by $227,528. This equaled about $10,000 per week in overtime payments.
To address the issue, the town planned reconfigure work schedules with more officers on duty at a time so that when sick time is used, less overtime would used, as BPD would still be meeting minimum staffing levels. A sergeant position was also shifted to the patrol unit to address the increase in patrol officer shifts.
However, these changes were planned before Bethlehem Police dealt with multiple sick and injury leaves and police said were left with less officers covering peak hours than before.
Contractually, the police have unlimited sick time – granted by the Chief of Police after the presentation of a medical note when members are unable to work for 30 days or more – and each time an officer calls in sick, his replacement is paid overtime.
“The myth of officers simply calling in sick daily does not occur,” said Srgt. Stephen Kraz, president of the Police Supervisor’s Association, who said the average officer takes six to eight days off each year.
Policy changes also required police to put in for time off sooner, except in emergency situations, and to present a medical when out sick for two or more days.
Clarkson’s decision to introduce police overtime reduction policies in early 2015 saved the town $150,000, before overtime increased again because of injuries and sick leaves. But, the move also gained the supervisor a formidable opponent in the BPD.
“The more overworked an officer is, the more likely they are going to be injured and become sick. It’s what happens when you’re overworked and asked to do more with less,” said Mike Berben, president of the police officers union.
Bethlehem Police have now been without a contract for over a year, as the force’s two unions argue with the town over the new policies. As well, over two dozen grievances combined were filed by the Bethlehem Police Officer’s Union and the Supervisors Association against the town for instances where time off was not granted.
With six officers now out on extended sick or injury leave, the strapped department has been experiencing a “perfect storm” of problems described Police Chief Lou Corsi. Suffice to say, the police were not pleased with the overtime policies.