SYRACUSE, N.Y. — New Syracuse police officers would be required to live in the city for their first five years on the job, as part of a deal inked today between the police union and Mayor Ben Walsh.
The residency requirement is part of a tentative four-and-a-half year contract between the city and the Syracuse Police Benevolent Association. Both Walsh and PBA President Jeff Piedmonte signed the agreement Tuesday.
Starting with the next academy class, new officers will have six months from graduation to provide proof of city residency to city hall. Officers who transfer from other departments are exempt from the clause.
The agreement is similar to a deal reached with the Syracuse firefighters union in 2016.
Other details of the police contract include a retroactive 2.5 percent raise for 2018 and 2 percent pay raises for 2019 to 2022. It includes an option to change a shift scheduling practice called “the wheel,” that some lawmakers and a former police chief have argued costs the city too much money and drives up overtime costs.
The proposed contract offers incentive pay increases for officers who are military veterans, can speak a second language and officers with higher education degrees.
There are also big pay bumps for ranking officers and for longevity.
The pay increases are designed to attract and keep experienced leaders in the department, according to Chief Kenton Buckner. Under the current pay structure, rank-and-file officers sometimes make more than their superiors, mostly due to overtime pay. Many officers retire after 20 years, once they are able to collect a full pension.
“Our goal with these four terms – residency, rank differential, longevity increases and incentives for education, language and military service – is to build a stronger police force for the people of this city,” Buckner said in a statement to syracuse.com. “With more officers able to speak a language other than English, we can better serve the diverse residents of the city.”
The contract includes an option to try a new schedule for officers if the department reaches a staffing level of 450 officers. There are currently 403 officers, including 43 recruits.
If that level is reached, the city and PBA agreed to try putting officers on 10-hour shifts on a rotating 4/3, 4/4 schedule. That means cops would work four days, followed by four days off, then work four more days, followed by three days off.
Officers currently work four days on, two days off, on eight-hour shifts. A syracuse.com review last year found that the schedule meant officers work 17 days fewer than other city employees. The schedule also contributed to higher overtime costs. The average officer worked 7.5 hours of overtime per week in 2017 — nearly one full shift.
After a year using the pilot schedule, the city and the union will review the results and decide whether to revert back to the existing schedule.
Frank Caliva, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the negotiation process, which was about six months long, was unlike many previous contract settlements. The two sides agreed to a series of objectives before deciding on specific contract points.
Most important, Caliva said, was rewarding and incentivizing professionalism and experience. Officers on the force more than 20 years used to be paid $2,200 extra, with a $200 bump each year after 20. That’s been upped to $10,000 after year 20.
Pay for sergeants, lieutenants and captains jumped anywhere from 9 to 19 percent. Captains with more than three years in the job will now make a base salary of $109,000, compared to the $91,226 they currently make. Caliva said the higher pay will encourage more officers to seek leadership positions.
“One of the concerns I think we shared across the table was the willingness of folks to take the test and take on additional responsibility in leadership,” he said. “The differentials were just not sufficient.”
The base salary increases will cost about $800,000 in the first year of the contract and up to $2.5 million in the later years, Caliva said. The other incentives will also add to the department’s budget. Adding more officers, however, could cut down on overtime costs.
The residency clause is a big win for city officials, who have sought for years to make officers and other public servants a part of city neighborhoods.
When Walsh ran for mayor in 2017, syracuse.com asked whether he believed officers should be required to live in the city. He said he would negotiate a PBA contract with a “reasonable residency requirement.”
“In doing so, I will be sensitive to the concerns I’ve heard from officers regarding the safety of their families given the nature of their work,” Walsh said at the time.
The contract must still be approved by the Common Council and by the PBA. The council will discuss the contract in a committee meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 4 at noon and could vote by the end of the month. The union is expected to vote by Tuesday, Dec. 3.
Piedmonte, the union president, could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.