The reorganization of management at the Police Department is actually a maneuver to clamp down on the excessive leave that police union members are allowing each other to take, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said Monday.
The new system calls for three lieutenant positions to be replaced by a new captain and a new assistant chief.
Councilwoman Denise Brucker criticized the proposal, saying the city should increase the number of patrol officers instead of sending more officers into upper management.
The rest of the council voted in favor of the idea, which passed 5-1 with Councilman Joseph Allen absent.
After the meeting, Bennett said the reorganization was designed to take certain supervisory decisions out of the union’s hands. Captains and assistant chiefs are not members of the Police Benevolent Association.
“Union people overseeing union people doesn’t necessarily work too well,” Bennett said. “In the last labor negotiations, the PBA president cited specific examples where he blamed supervisors — union people, I might add — where they allowed too many people too much time off.”
Union President Robert Hamilton successfully argued last year that the police contract did not need to be changed because supervisors could have limited the time off, but didn’t. The city had wanted an elimination of comp time, in which officers take days off in lieu of some overtime pay.
The city argued that comp time usage was out of control on weekends and other unpopular working days, forcing the department to call in many officers on overtime. A Sunday Gazette review found that on some occasions, only five of the 17 officers showed up for their Saturday evening shift. On average, 42 percent of the officers skipped that shift each week in 2006. Typically seven officers were allowed off, although no more than 5 should have been allowed to take the time off.
Hamilton said the city should have enforced its rules. Now it will, Bennett said.
“We’ll have more accountable supervision,” he said. “We’re very, very acutely aware of the number of people on the street. By better administering some of the leave programs, where there was, shall we say, some abuses, we will have more officers on the street.”
He added that he wasn’t accusing every supervisor of granting too many leave requests.
“But human nature is what it is,” Bennett said.
The decision was lauded by one unlikely source — Ralph Boyd Sr., who fought for unions for most of his adult life and is an active member of the General Electric union.
“I believe in unions,” he told the council Monday. “But I believe Schenectady, like Albany, is trapped by the PBA. I believe in unions, but I believe in right and wrong.”
The council also got advice from their regular critic, Harry Brand, who said they need to try much harsher tactics.
“If you have to, bankrupt the city to break the union,” he said, then quickly added, “Not break the union. Put them in their place.”
Councilman Gary McCarthy, who chairs the public safety committee, said the city wouldn’t have to go that far.
“I believe this is going to produce tangible and measurable results in the next year,” he said, adding, “I believe this [will] create better internal controls.”