Editor, The Spotlight:
In his monthly letter to the Town (Town of Bethlehem e-newsletter, April, 2015) Supervisor John Clarkson commented on the increasing number of lawn signs throughout the town that call for “Support of the Bethlehem Police Department”. These signs appear now, at a time when Clarkson has mandated significant restrictions on the police that impair their ability to ensure public safety.
In the wake of extensive media coverage (The Albany Times Union, The Spotlight, News 10, etc.) Supervisor Clarkson sought to assure his constituents of his support for the police while describing his efforts to “reign (sic) in overtime.” His is an admirable goal both in terms of its effect on the Town Budget and the positive effect it would have on working conditions in the Department. Unfortunately his course of action is hurting the Town, its Police Department, and the families of our police officers.
First, the issue of overtime is due, in no small part, to the Town’s failure to hire more police officers. As it stands the Bethlehem Police Department is 9 officers short of the levels recommended in a study conducted by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. As a result, Bethlehem has fewer police officers sharing an ever-increasing responsibility for 173 miles of roadway, 52 square miles of town, and over 32,000 hours of response time. It’s small wonder that the remaining members of the force are working overtime, covering for officers who were never hired.
Second, in as much as the Supervisor’s cost cutting amounts to an “appreciation (for) their service,” his actions show little regard for the well-being of police officers and their families. He has formulated new personnel policies that: apply only to the police department; deny officer’s personal and family leave; deny police officer’s the right to take off weekend days; and impose onerous and costly hurdles upon officers who want to return to work after a period of disability. These policies negatively impact the family life of every police officer, every spouse, and every child of a police officer. They lead to poor morale while having a deleterious effect on public safety. It’s hard to imagine that these conditions will make us more secure.
While Mr. Clarkson’s remarks are welcomingly transparent, they also make clear his commitment to cost-cutting even in the face of diminished public safety. Instead of cost-cutting, our goal should be to support the values that define Bethlehem as a community. We show appreciation by caring about each other, including our police families; by helping those who are in need, including our police and their families; and by trying to do the right thing.
It is important that our elected officials hear from residents who share these values. We must tell them to reject election year antics and, instead, provide our police men and women, and their families, with the support they need to keep Bethlehem safe.