Some city officials want to have more say in the labor contracts that allowed five Saratoga Springs police officers to take personal days on opening day at Saratoga Race Course last month and required the city to pay overtime to other officers.
“I think we should have more say in contracts,” said Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen.
While paying overtime to police officers, who sometimes work double shifts to cover for those who take off, is commonplace in police agencies, “I think the unusual part here is that it was so many people calling in on such a busy day,” Mathiesen said.
Police officers are very active on Saratoga Race Course’s opening day, keeping watch over crowds around the track and downtown and responding to any incidents. After the racing card ended July 19, live music brought crowds downtown for the Hats Off festival.
“It’s a big day for the police department, a big day for the city,” Mathiesen said.
In addition to the five who took personal days, one officer called in sick and another had a previously approved vacation, said police Chief Greg Veitch. Some of those officers took off for a social gathering on opening day, Mathiesen said.
While officers are entitled to the time off, they probably should have picked a better day to take it, Veitch admitted.
“At the end of the day, you have a responsibility as a policeman to work on the days they need you most,” Veitch said.
The officers’ contract allows them to take their eight personal days a year when they wish, as long as they ask at least 72 hours in advance and the department can fill the shifts with other officers. So they “did nothing wrong” in taking the time off, Mathiesen said.
There are stricter guidelines about when officers can take vacation time and how many people can be off at one time.
But the decades-old rules about personal days, written when officers only got three personal days a year, can put the city in a tough spot and cost taxpayers in overtime.
“There’s no endless pot of money for us to pull money out of,” Veitch said.
Officials did not know how much the city paid in overtime that day.
The city doesn’t always pay overtime to another officer when someone takes a day off. There are less busy times when officers can take off and the supervisor on duty decides not to replace them on that shift, Mathiesen said.
“There is some flexibility there,” he said. “We don’t always fill each and every slot, but for a busy night, it is necessary.”
Other busy days for police include New Year’s Eve, Chowderfest in February, many of the weekend nights during racing season and the days surrounding the Travers Stakes.
Officer Paul Veitch, president of the Saratoga Springs Police Benevolent Association, could not be reached Thursday for comment. He is Greg Veitch’s brother.