Filling the ranks of law enforcement | News

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CANANDAIGUA — When longtime Ontario County Sheriff Phil Povero came out of retirement last November in an interim role, he faced two big challenges: improving morale and filling numerous job vacancies. with respect to deputies and correctional officers.

Morale would be up. However, hiring deputies and commanders remains a work in progress.

“On the criminal justice side, in highway patrol, we have four full-time openings for deputies, a sergeant and an investigator,” Povero said in a recent interview. “It’s on the prison side that we really need help. We have lost 20 corrections officers, a sergeant and a chief (due to the recent retirement of Chris Smith).

In an effort to quickly fill those jobs with experienced officers from other departments — known in police circles as lateral transfers — the county and sheriff’s office are dangling very big carrots in front of prospects. They include better pay from recent labor agreements, signing bonuses of up to $7,000, and other benefits including longevity pay, retention bonuses, a take-home patrol vehicle to save gas and free health care for the rest of this year and at lower cost next year.

“Our approach over the past few months has been to look at the pay structure in law enforcement and corrections. Working with various unions and the county government, these CBAs (collective bargaining agreements) were agreed to by all parties,” Povero added. “The Ontario County government has recognized the need to show significant improvement in salaries paid to police, corrections and 911 dispatchers. These CBAs recognize and support the retention of our existing, excellent and dedicated staff, as well as the recruitment of new employees. »

Povero and other area police chiefs said the issue goes beyond lateral transfers and speaks to a time when many agencies were seeing young people take less interest in law enforcement.

“Recruitment has become an even bigger challenge over the past two years. I think most agencies face the same issues,” Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua said. “We do what we can with staffing and try to recruit when an opening occurs or we retire. Lateral transfers are a quick solution to a staff shortage because they are already trained and certified.

Penn Yan Police Chief Tom Dunham said his department is fully staffed at this point.

“However,” he said, “I consider staffing to be an issue for law enforcement as a whole. It’s no secret that law enforcement has taken beatings over the past few years nationally. I believe many young people have seen the anti-law enforcement stuff in the media, and it’s turning them away from careers. We also have experienced officers across the country who retired due to stress or fear of making a life-changing mistake.

“I agree that there is less interest in law enforcement careers today and fewer people taking the (civil service) exam. The era in which we find doesn’t help,” said Seneca Falls Police Chief Stu Peenstra. “That said, there are ups and downs in any kind of career. Those who apply for jobs seem very committed. We now have new officers in the (police) academy. They are good candidates who are passionate about the profession, eager and eager to be a police officer. There is always that dynamism there -down, which is encouraging.

Ontario County and Geneva

Before retiring at the end of 2018, Povero served as Sheriff of Ontario County for 28 years – the longest term in the county’s history. One of his longtime deputies, Kevin Henderson, was elected sheriff in November 2018, took office in early 2019 but resigned last fall after less than three years on the job following allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior and poor leadership.

When he returned to the interim role, Povero told the media that he was not going to comment on the previous administration and remains adamant about it. However, just before Henderson’s resignation, the union representing deputies, sergeants and investigators went public, saying Henderson had created a “toxic culture” in the department and that he lacked confidence in his ability to perform. to do work.

The union said during Henderson’s brief tenure, lateral transfers — officers leaving the sheriff’s department for other police departments — numbered 17. Union officials said that was more than during the almost three decades of Povero before he came out of retirement.

The union said full-time highway patrol was budgeted for 45 positions, but only 26 deputies were on the road before Henderson’s resignation. They said three more deputies would leave soon and that several of those who remained were actively seeking positions elsewhere.

Following Henderson’s resignation, county officials said some of those officers changed their minds or decided to stay on when they learned Povero was returning. Although he didn’t talk about it, Povero acknowledged that the ranks were filling up.

“We also have seven police officers going through the basic training academy,” he said. “That’s a pretty good number.”

Although the incentives in Geneva are not as attractive as those in the county, the city offers salaries ranging from $56,300 to $77,800 for lateral transfers depending on experience. Incentives include pay for education, bilingual pay, pay for specialized jobs including a proof technician, and comprehensive insurance.

In a 2021 interview with the TimeShortly after a city council working session on police staffing turned chaotic, Passalacqua talked about filing for a lateral transfer due to a vacancy.

“We haven’t received a single call… I can tell you that years ago it was different. It was a place where people wanted to work. It’s not like that anymore,” he said. “I’m not saying it can’t change, but it’s not like that now… You go 15 to 18 miles down the road to the town of Canandaigua. They applied for a lateral transfer and received many responses and resumes. »

In a recent email, Passalacqua said the situation hasn’t changed much in Geneva.

“We asked an agent from a neighboring agency to ask us for a lateral transfer. However, it didn’t work,” he said. “I hope that will change because we currently have vacancies.”

Civil service and compensation

The sheriffs and police chiefs who contributed to this article agreed that the state civil service process for future police officers needed an overhaul. During a guest appearance that will appear in the Time On Tuesday, Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike said test results take 3-5 months to be returned to an agency for hiring, and leaders are limited to the number of applicants they could interrogate based on test results.

“Sheriffs have formally called for significant civil service reform and opened up the pool of qualified applicants. We would like to see hiring on a pass/fail entry level exam instead of what is called zone scoring,” Povero said. “If everyone passes, give us all the names and let us sort it out, because then you’ll have background investigations, physical exams and psychological exams.”

“I also believe it is time for the state to change some of the rules and paperwork around civil service and the testing process to become a police officer. The process can be overwhelming and time-consuming for a candidate who doesn’t know what to expect,” Passalacqua added. “The current way of doing this is helpful to those who are good candidates because of the way candidates are sorted into groups based on scores. It’s not useful for those who would make great cops but don’t do well on tests because if they score lower, it takes them longer to be reachable on an active roster and some never become eligible in the two years where the list is good.

“It sends the wrong message to a candidate who passed a written test but never received a job call,” he added. “Some, after two years of hearing nothing and waiting, give up the job and move on.”

Peenstra and others agree that the pay of area police officers can be far less than what they would get from suburban Rochester departments.

“We have lost two officers to Brighton, who are paying a lot more. Of course living in Brighton costs a lot more,” Peenstra said. “We don’t have a lot of turnover, but we know the agencies offer huge incentives. It attracts the attention of others.

The bright side

Peenstra said while the grass may literally be greener elsewhere, in terms of money, working for a small police department has its charm.

“We now have 17 sworn officers. I am always mindful of the overall total cost of running this department, but providing adequate services,” Peenstra said. “One thing I would say about working for a municipal police department – you get to know everyone who lives here more than if you work for a county sheriff’s department, state police or a big PD from the city.”

“We do more local policing. We do things that some police officers don’t… like an elderly woman whose smoke alarm went off at 3 am. We installed a new battery in it. It’s not really a police call, but we went there,” Peenstra added. “We see it that way – if your mum or dad, aunt, uncle, etc. needed help and didn’t know who to call, at any time of the day…we’ll at least point them in the right direction. It’s the little things that go beyond this question. We are a very close-knit department. We get along very well, and that’s a long way. Everyone seems to enjoy their work. I don’t think all agencies can say that. Management plays a role. If you support your staff, like me and this current City Council, and the community supports us, to me, that makes Seneca Falls PD a great place to work.

“With all that said, I still believe that law enforcement is a noble profession and a calling for many people. It is critical that our communities continue to attract good, well-rounded people into law enforcement careers,” Dunham added. “I always knew I wanted to be a police officer and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It’s an exciting career where you see all kinds of things and where you can help people.

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