More officers are now working for the Schenectady Police Department than ever before, as the department nears its new budgeted strength of 166 for the first time.
And more officers will stay in the patrol division than ever before as well. Unlike under previous administrations, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said he’s not inclined to promote patrol officers to the investigation division once new hires come on to take their place.
“Patrol is the first responsibility of the police department,” Bennett said. “I want to cut down on the response time and increase citizen satisfaction.”
But an improvement in response time is not likely to happen immediately.
Nine officers graduated from the police academy last week, but they have at least three months of field training ahead of them before they can answer calls on their own. They’re patrolling the city with experienced officers right now.
The department is offering jobs to another 10 officers this week. If all 10 accept — as they are expected to — then the full muster will fall just two officers shy of the budgeted force of 166, set by the city a year ago. That was an increase from 160 officers, which had been the most ever used by the city. Even when Schenectady’s population was larger, decades ago, it had fewer officers, according to police records.
Two of the newest hires are New York City officers who will need only a few weeks of field training before beginning to patrol on their own. They’re also familiar with the area — they grew up in Fonda and Rotterdam, Bennett said.
But the other eight new officers haven’t gone through the six-month police academy course yet. They head to school next week, which means that the city will have to wait until October to have a full roster of active officers.
Bennett has not yet offered data that could be used to determine whether the new hires reduce response time. He suggested using residents’ complaints as an indication.
RESPONSE TIME CRITICAL
In the summer of 2006, when the department was coping with five vacancies and the Schenectady City Council was flooded with residents’ complaints, it took police 91⁄2 minutes on average to respond to the most serious calls, according to a report compiled by then-Chief Michael N. Geraci. Bennett does not have more current response time data but said he thinks police now get to the most serious calls within an acceptable period of time.
It’s the less serious calls — like drug dealers peaceably selling cocaine outside a store — that need faster attention, he said. Geraci said in 2006 that the average response time for those calls was 45 minutes.
Bennett said those calls may take up to an hour now — something he wants to change quickly.
Police union President Robert Hamilton said he agrees with Bennett’s decision to focus on the patrol division first. Keeping officers there will improve response times, Hamilton said.
“Absolutely it will,” he said. “I think it’s critical we have officers to respond to calls as they come in, on a timely basis. But there are other units that also need bodies so we can follow up on that.”
He said the vice squad in particular needs more officers.
“Vice, which had 12 officers six years ago, is down to six,” he said. “And there’s going to be two retirements this year, so it will be down to four. I’m sorry, that’s not nearly enough.”
He said the youth aid bureau also hasn’t seen a staff increase in a decade while juvenile crimes have increased substantially.
“Some of the communities, one of their biggest complaints is they don’t get timely follow-up calls from the detectives, and it’s true,” Hamilton said.
He said he hopes once all the new officers hit the streets, the council will approve funding to hire 14 more officers, so that the investigative division can be increased.
But he said he wants more than just additions to the existing detective units. He wants to create a new group, dubbed the Street Crimes Unit.
The detectives assigned to that unit — which would be identical to the Directed Patrol that was used in 1999 — would travel from neighborhood to neighborhood in response to crime trends.
If copper pipe thefts spiked, the detectives would search for houses that criminals might consider “easy targets,” Hamilton said. Then the police would lay in wait until someone took the bait.
“With the rash of thefts from cars at the holidays, you could fill a car and sit on it,” Hamilton said. “It’s critical we get back to proactive policing.”
The new officers will receive a starting salary of $30,000, the second-lowest in the county after Niskayuna. With the department at nearly full strength, city officials have budgeted $14.7 million on police this year, including $6 million in salaries for the 119 officers in the patrol division and $2.4 million in salaries for the 47 officers for the investigative division. In that division, there are 29 budgeted investigators, down from 33 in 2007, and six other investigators are budgeted as vacant positions.
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Categories: Schenectady County