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Community and city officials discuss Albany Police shortage

October 09, 2019 11:09 PM

ALBANY – The community group A Block at a Time held a community meeting Wednesday night about the shortage of Albany Police officers and how that impacts community policing.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins and Albany Police Officers Union President Gregory McGee were all there to discuss the problem.

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“We've asked them to do more with fewer officers,” said Chief Hawkins. “So we have officers now working double shifts, being mandated to work."

Hawkins said the department is budgeted for 342 officers. He said currently they’re short 47 officers. Some of the reasons discussed on what is causing the shortage is that officers working 20 to 25 years all retire around the same time. Officers are also leaving for other agencies. The problem has some residents concerned about what this means for community policing.

“Community policing is the officers having good communication with the community, you can’t do that without officers,” said one man at the meeting.

Hawkins said the department is restructuring its Neighborhood Engagement Unit, meaning because of the shortage there will be fewer beat cops around. Hawkins and McGee both said they need to fix the shortage before they can fully give the community what they want.

"That's the heart of community policing right there, that the officer coming to your house to answer that call can spend a little bit of extra time with you instead of saying hey I have to go there's 18 calls pending,” said McGee.

McGee said pay and being competitive with other agencies is a big part of retention. He said an Albany officers tops out at around $68,000 a year. He said if you look at other agencies, for example Colonie Police, they top out at around $81,000 a year.

“The bottom line is we’re underpaid, we’re understaffed, we’re overworked and we haven’t had a contract,” said McGee.

Mayor Sheehan said this is a problem nationwide and she agrees Albany officers need to be paid more. However, she said the city currently cannot negotiate a contract with the union.

"The detectives within the bargaining unit have petitioned the public employees relations board to create their own union so until that internal union issue is resolved we're precluded from negotiating,” said Sheehan.

McGee said at the earliest December is when a decision on whether or not the city will be negotiating with one or two unions could be made.

Chief Hawkins said the department is also working with colleges and Albany High School when it comes to recruitment and encouraging people to consider a career in law enforcement.

Hawkins and Sheehan also said they’re working to find a bigger facility for their police academy. Currently they can only have 20 recruits at a time. They said a bigger space would allow them to have around 50 to 60 recruits at a time.

Chief Hawkins said he is confident that with time, the department will get to where it needs to be.

“We are making progress and we will make more progress," said Hawkins. There’s still some things we're working on, still some issues and challenges that exist in this community and we’re slowly and methodically picking our way through this."

Credits

Emily De Vito

Copyright 2019 WNYT-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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