Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins says the biggest challenge the department currently faces is staffing. The department is budgeted for 342 officers, and currently they are short 47.
“We have officers right now who are working double shifts. We have officers who are being mandated to work,” Hawkins said.
It was the focus of a forum organized by A Block At A Time, discussing the state of the police department. Officials say one reason for the shortage is not being able to train enough officers at once in the academy to keep up with retirements. Another reason is officers leaving for other jobs.
“Bottom line is we’re under paid, understaffed, overworked, we haven’t had a contract. We had to go arbitration in 2014 and 2015,” said Greg McGee, Albany Police Officers Union president.
Mayor Kathy Sheehan agrees officers are underpaid but says they can’t negotiate on a new contract until internal union issues are resolved. The detectives are looking to branch off as a separate bargaining unit, while the officers are looking to change their representation.
Until the public employees relations board rules on this, it remains at an impasse.
“We’ll either be negotiating with one union or two unions but we really hope to resolve that,” Sheehan said.
“Outside of the New York state police and New York City, there was no need for the city to recognize and fracture our bargaining unit,” McGee said.
With a staff shortage, some residents wonder about the impact on community policing and the neighborhood engagement unit. Hawkins says there will be some changes but beat officers will be in neighborhoods. He says they’re still committed to community policing.
“What we’re doing is making some internal adjustments. We want to maintain the structure of that unit but we’re also understanding there are some other needs in the department that need to be met,” Hawkins said.