When they’re not committing actual crimes — like beating up their wives, driving drunk or stealing or selling drugs — Schenectady police are ripping off taxpayers by stealing time: calling in sick excessively, taking time off for union work, and generally gaming the system to get as much time off as they can. This provides overtime opportunities for their “brother” officers, which not only costs the city a bundle in the year the OT is taken, but when the cops retire, through padded pensions.
The numbers speak for themselves: Police OT cost the city $3 million last year, $1.1 million more than budgeted. And this number wasn’t just higher than the average tab of roughly $2.4 million in each of the previous four years, it was a lot higher.
Another telling statistic: 52 of the city’s 63 workers with earnings that topped $100,000 last year were cops. Yet only Police Chief Mark Chaires and Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett (along with Fire Chief Robert Farstad) had regular salaries exceeding that level.
There’s no other way to put it: Department administrators have failed abysmally in their continuing effort to rein in this problem. While it may not have been for lack of trying — contractual restrictions such as unlimited sick pay for much of the rank and file, and the right to bank overtime from one year to the next, make it difficult to tame the beast — it has been a failure nonetheless.
And it certainly gives Mayor Brian Stratton one more reason to pursue the department’s dissolution and/or merger with the county: If the cops won’t agree to changing the terms of a contract that is bankrupting the city, then the city should attempt to get rid of the contract.
Admittedly, some of last year’s huge overtime bill came as a result of cops being suspended for bad behavior. But as Kathleen Moore’s story in yesterday’s Gazette pointed out, the department spent far less on OT in prior years when it had more vacancies (including the suspensions) than last year. It’s also worth noting that the suspended cops — though they were paid for most of the year — couldn’t earn any OT during their suspensions. But their brethren, it appears, more than made up for them.
While department administrators shouldn’t give up trying to fix this mess, it’s pretty clearly beyond their control — which is why we say, again, the department must go.