POUGHKEEPSIE – The City of Poughkeepsie started 2016 with a full complement of 96 police officers. That didn’t last long, according to Police Chief Thomas Pape, who, accompanied by two top-level captains, addressed retention problems during an almost hour-long Common Council hearing.
Pape said at the time, he was aware of four pending retirements.
“What we could not anticipate was an additional five officers leaving for other employment. As we moved into and progressed through 2017, we had three officers receive disability retirements, eight officers leave for other employment and three additional regular retirements.”
That’s a total of 23 officers gone.
Pape said they hired eight new officers only to see three leave for other employment.
“During my exit interviews with the officers who have left for other employment opportunities, they have for the most part stated that their main reason for leaving was financial.”
Pape said they don’t have to go far. Police jobs in neighboring Putnam County pay $10,000 to $15,000 more than Poughkeepsie can pay.
The chief said they take with them the training and experience they acquired in the city. He said that impacts the remaining officers who may find themselves working extended shifts.
Pape has drafted a retention proposal that would reduce the force from 96 officers to 92. He arrived at that number in consultations with Mayor Robert Rolison.
“After due consideration and dialog with members of the command staff and union leadership, we are confident that this is a number that will allow us to provide adequate services to the community while reducing the amount of overtime currently needed to maintain minimum staffing levels,” Pape said.
There is one bright note, perhaps. The chief said they hope to hire as many as seven new recruits from the training academy that begins in August and graduates next spring.
Councilwoman Natasha Cherry conceded Poughkeepsie is “not in the ballpark” but said she was concerned with one point of the retention plan.
“By lowering the starting salary of the beginning first-year officers, I’m not really sure how that is going to help with our problem with recruitment because it seems like almost half of them or a third of them, three out of eight, consistently leave,” Cherry said.
Pape noted they have adjusted the salary for officers on the force for four or five years to levels at par with other area departments.
But Cherry, who chairs the legislature’s finance committee, said that could create its own issue down the road.
“If we do this and we give this increase which would cost about $218,000 this year and $481,000 next year and we don’t fill those empty spots, we’re going to be in a bad spot with the overtime and increase will actually be severely negatively impacted.”
Asked by Councilwoman Yvonne Flowers how long the retention plan might take to pay off, the chief said he can’t give a clear answer on that.
“If no one retires and no one else leaves, we could be, and we’re lucky enough to get one or two lateral transfers, we could be up to full strength by, the academy would get out in April of ’19, field training, so, we could be up to full staff by June.”
The unanswered question is how did this situation evolve?
Rolison said the previous mayor did not put money into his budget for raises and they needed help from the state Financial Restructuring Board.
The City of Newburgh has the same problem of trying to retain police officers because of salary levels. That city is concerned because it spends large sums to train new officers, only to have them move on for significantly higher wages.