BATAVIA — The City of Batavia Police Department has three vacant police officer positions, which led to a discussion at tonight’s Council meeting on how best to deal with the situation.
City Manager Rachael Tabelski said the department is waiting on the results of the most recent Civil Service exam because of the three open positions. Tabelski said the officers left for jobs in other municipalities, potentially because of the money and benefits they would receive, possibly to be closer to their families.
“There’s a multitude of reasons why someone leaves employment,” the city manager said.
Councilmember Rose Mary Christian asked what the specific reasons were with these three officers.
“Definitely finances — some departments give lifetime health care, which we’re not in a position to do. Sometimes, it’s a different environment, so it’s a town police department, not a city police department,” Tabelski said.
Christian asked what the city is doing to hire three new officers.
“We’ve combed the existing Civil Service list and we’ve gotten to the very bottom of qualified candidates,” Tabelski said. “In the last three months, we hired one who we’ve put through training and now we need to move to a new Civil Service list. The test was just given and it will be published within this week or so. Once it’s published, we can go on the list. We can go through the process of hiring.”
The process includes putting these officers through an academy, then field training. Once that’s done, they can be brought in as full-time officers, she said.
“What is their salary when we hire them?” Christian asked.
Police Chief Shawn Heubusch said, “I believe academy entry is $54,000.”
Christian asked whether other areas are offering officers more money.
“It depends. I don’t have the comparables with me. Some cities of our comparable size are lower and some are higher,” Tabelski said. “Larger, metropolitan police departments do offer more funds, like Buffalo and Rochester in police and in fire, especially where they can have fire districts, which is an entirely separate way of taxing the community.”
Christian, who has said she plans to step down as Ward 6 councilmember soon to move to a home in Ward 1, said tonight that she hopes her colleagues consider giving officers a raise in order to hire more policemen.
“It is union, but the thing of it is, they do deserve it. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it,” she said.
Councilmember John Canale said he agreed, but added, “I think that’s something that we, as Council, want to sit down with the city manager, look at the existing benefits and pay package that we’re offering right now, do a comparison of that versus other communities of our size ...”
“You’re going to be in the Buffalo City Police Department or the Rochester City Police Department, they’re going to earn more because of the situation that they’re in. It’s a completely different environment,” he said. “I would encourage us to sit down as a group and investigate what other communities of our size are paying their police departments and then figure out, maybe, what some of the reasons are. Look into the reasons as to why people have left in the past and then find out where there might be some solutions to those areas ...”
Christian said she agreed with Canale,
“Right now, and what I see out there, it’s not improving. It’s getting terrible out there,” she said. “This damn bail reform is ridiculous. There’s nothing we can do about that at this time, but we certainly can take care of our policemen.”
Canale said he would encourage the Council to sit down with Tabelski and encourage her to work on certain areas of the union contract that the Council might want to see changed during the next contract negotiations.
Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. asked, “Any of these three individuals that left, were they within their threshold where we would recoup some of our training money back?”
Tabelski said, “One of them was and we have issued bills to the town of Greece, which we are hoping that they will pay soon.”
Jankowski said if the city trained the officers and they left within a certain period of time, the agency the officers went to has to cover Batavia’s costs — to a certain point — for training them.
Heubusch said, “The caveat to that is the officer must be hired as a lateral transfer. If the officer is hired off of a Civil Service list, which each agency kind of has their own Civil Service list ... If those officers that transfer out are hired off of a list, we cannot recoup that money because they’re not being hired as a transfer candidate.”