COLONIE — Overtime spending for the Police Department was down more than $500,000 over 2019, but police officers and dispatchers still dominate the top 10 list of earners in town and those employees making the most OT.
The PD, which includes the dispatch center, officers and investigators, spent $1.6 million in OT last year, down $557,145 less than the $2.1 million a year before, according to Acting Comptroller Chris Kelsey. That equates to about 9,500 less hours of OT.
Police Chief Jonathan Teale said the reduction was a direct result of a mid-year directive by Supervisor Paual Mahan for all departments to cut expenses by 10 percent to offset a loss of revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In addition to that, the courts were closed and officers were not getting overtime for court appearances or duties related to court security,” Teale said.
Of the OT that was spent, he said some was reimbursed by other agencies for officers participating in federal and state task forces and some was reimbursed by vendors, like churches or schools, who want traffic control or a police presence for events. But, due to COVID, that was stream of OT income for officers was curtailed for most of 2020.
The pandemic did not, though, curtail other reasons police officers collect OT such as in depth investigations, serious crimes, car crashes and weather related incidents, Teale said. Also, adding to the OT figure was a 2 percent raise to officer’s base pay approved by the Town Board as part of a multi-year contract agreement reached in 2017.
On the communications side of the PD, four of the top 10 OT earners in town were dispatchers including three of the top five (see chart.) Teale said the dispatchers got more than 146,000 police, fire and EMS calls in 2020 and more than 35,000 were 911. They are also short-staffed, he said, and the pandemic did not stop or reduce calls coming into the dispatch center.
Both in the PD and in the dispatch center, Teale said, there are openings and it is getting more difficult to fill the positions. There was a hiring freeze in place for most of 2020 and the PD was down four officers for most of the year. Four police officers were hired in 2020 and were set to start on April 1. Two, he said dropped out, an unheard of scenario, and there is a vacancy in communications.
“We are concerned, with everything going on nationally, that it will continue be more difficult to get qualified people,” he said. “We are offering a new [Civil Service] exam in November and that will be telling. In this climate, people see what the police are going through and they don’t want it.”
A new hire in communications decided the busy, high-pressured environment was too much and moved on.
All 10 of the town top earners were members of the Police Department, according to records. Teale was the highest paid at $141,039 and investigator Chris Smith placed 10th at $130,233. Supervisor Mahan makes $123,006.
Over the summer of 2020, sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, a number of protests and rallies took place across the country with one theme being to “defund the police.” Politicians at all levels of government are more skeptical as well and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, through one of his executive orders, mandated all municipalities to form a Police Review Committee to re-examine and ensure departments are enforcing the law on an equitable basis (see page 1.)
In addition to that, index crimes, the most serious, spiked by 34 percent in Colonie, Teale said, and there were record numbers of shootings in the three major cities in the Capital District. In 2020, the Colonie PD confiscated 26 illegal guns, shattering the previous record of 11 in 2015.
The numbers, he said, are still relatively low, but in 2020 there were 28 robberies and 51 assaults. Other index crimes include murder and rape. There were two shootings in town last year and there has already been one shooting this year.
The spike in crime, he said, is directly related to so the package of criminal justice reform bills, known as “bail reform,” passed by the state Legislature in 2019.
“It has turned into catch and release for most offenses. Previously, a defendant was remanded, at least temporarily, so there would be a cooling off period and there were at least some consequences but not there is no consequence to getting arrested. Everyone is experiencing the same thing. Violent crime has gone up not just here but in the surroundings areas.
“The bad guys know, they talk about it, they know they will get arrested, get an appearance ticket, and walk out the door.”
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