POUGHKEEPSIE, NY – City police officers have begun their fifth year without a cost of living increase added to their salaries.
Approval of a police contract between the Police Benevolent Association and the City of Poughkeepsie was put on hold in December for the fourth consecutive year.
“It’s frustrating,” Police Chief Ronald Knapp said about the contract’s delay. While crime is down overall, the news has nevertheless lowered morale of a police force that has seen seven shootings in the summer of 2015, Knapp said.
“It is obviously very bad for morale,” Knapp said. “Many of these officers join the department knowing that there are other departments that pay more, but they at least expect to get paid what they are owed. The cost of living is going up, but officers’ pay is at the same level. It is just adds to all of the other stresses that are out there. It’s something we don’t need. It’s also a deterrent for officers we’re looking to hire.”
Now it will be up to the new Common Council to approve the contract when it meets again this month. If the Common Council fails to approve a contract, a state arbitrator could be called in to create “a third party binding review” that both the state and city Police Benevolent Association must approve.
An agreement authored by a state mediator was signed by the mayor and a representative of Police Officer’s Benevolent Association in September. But a majority of City Common Council members abstained from voting on the contract in December after then-City Administrator Milo Bunyi told them the tax levy would double if the contract was approved.
Knapp, who has replaced Bunyi as interim city administrator, was critical of the city’s budget process, saying it has been “flawed since it started.” Knapp said there was “no discussion” with the city administrator “of the impact of the loss of jobs on our operations” during the budgeting process.
Cuts proposed by the mayor in October included two police aides, one juvenile specialist and four dispatchers in an already “overworked” section of the department, Knapp said. Loss of dispatchers would have created mandated overtime in the form of double and triple shifts, he said. All of the dispatcher positions initially on the chopping block have since been added back into the amended budget approved by the Common Council.
But Bunyi said cuts had to be made to the police since it is the city’s biggest department.
“In (Knapp’s) opinion, the police department should never get a cut,” Bunyi said in response. “Unfortunately, his department is the biggest department. When you’re looking at a budget, you don’t cut out the small parts of your budget. You look at big spending. That is where you make your cuts… It’s a simple matter of economics.”
Knapp said the city also “cut out” from its budget “much-needed” computers, training time, police vehicles and some overtime. Those line items have not been added back into the budget that was approved last week.
“That is all stuff we’ll work through when it comes time to deal with them,” he said. “The bigger issue is the proposed loss of personnel. Our ability to function would have been greatly affected by these cuts. At least that part has been now fixed with the veto override.”