BETHLEHEM Contentious negotiations that have plagued the town and its police department for over a year are finally over, after more than a year of negotiations during which police operated under no contract.
While the town and the police department’s supervisors union have yet to reach a compromise, the good news is that a contract with the Bethlehem Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the department’s union for officers, representing 28 of the 38 sworn police officials in the department, the contract at least sees the end of their highly politicized struggle are very closer in sight. Relations between the town and police department have been tenuous since late 2014, when Supervisor John Clarkson attempted to introduce policies to curb police overtime costs, which resulted in a disgruntled and over-worked police department.
Now, both sides are letting out sighs of relief after reaching a contract that sees compromising on issues for both the town and PBA.
The contract guarantees time off of for officers, and in exchange for a starting salary decrease, wage increases are given after seven years of service and again after 15 years. In turn, litigations against the town by police officers have been dropped, and BPA has agreed to settle with current staffing levels.
“Despite our union’s inability to successfully lobby for additional staffing, the resulting contract will guarantee much needed time off and reduce the strain of required overtime. The Police Officers’ Union is pleased to have this process behind us and as always, we are honored to serve the residents of Bethlehem,” said PBA President Mike Berben.
While the PBA had campaigned for greater staffing to address the use of overtime, Clarkson and the Town Board chose other means to curb overtime, adopting policies used by another similarly-sized local police department – Guilderland PD.
In December of 2014 Supervisor John Clarkson announced he would introduce changes in police overtime after a consultant hired by the town determined the police department accrued $1.4 million in overtime that year, and went over its overtime budget by $227,528, equaling $10,000 per week in overtime payments. When compared to similar-sized police departments such as in Guilderland, this sum was large.
To address the issue, the town planned to reconfigure work schedules to include longer days and place more officers on duty at a time so that when sick time is used, less overtime would be used, as BPD would still be meeting minimum staffing levels even when some officers were out.
Yet, to the ire of the police department, these additional shifts also started at the same time as multiple officer sick or injury leaves and Clarkson’s new stricter policies on sick, injury and personal leave