Utica Police Chief: ‘We’re Being Villainized’
While he understands times are tough, Utica's Police Chief believes his department is being 'villainized' in the current budget process.
Chief Mark Williams and Public Information Officer Sgt. Steve Hauck joined First News with Keeler in the Morning to discuss the criticism being directed as his officers, particularly what is called 'show up pay', or will-call pay.
''The city's going through some tough financial times, people are overtaxed I understand that, but all the pressure is being put on the police department,'' Williams said, adding,"in a lot of ways we're being villainized by some of the comments, some of which are made by elected officials who are supposed to support us and help us.''
Williams explained that the name of the stipend, or perk, 'show up pay' gives the wrong impression. He says it ''implies we are just being paid to show up...it's not.''
''We have no gaps between shifts,'' Williams said as he explained why officers need to arrive at the station early. "...debriefing, who's wanted or missing, what's cars are stolen...and they need this information to go and do their jobs.''
Not Unique to Utica
Referring in general to city officials, Williams said ''they're focusing on this one item and making it sound like we're the only one who has it.''
Regarding to the suggestion that with today's technology, officers should be able to pull that needed information from a computer screen, Williams says, ''the problem is these council members have never been in will call to see what it's all about. There is no guarantee the police officers would actually have the time to read it, they're busy going on calls.'
''I know Rome and Schenectady have this...one of my relatives is a nurse, they have [briefing] pay as well, because they need to learn about the patients.
''I've got to deal with the morale issues this causes with the department, it's taking money out of their pocket, Williams said.''
The police chief also said the loss of the stipends, plus reports that 20 officers could be cut has lead to very low morale in his department.
''I lost seven of my best officers, they weren't waiting around to get their pink slips, they went elsewhere."
And how much further could the department be cut, if there are going to be cuts?
''If you look at Chicago, I think they're a half a step away from the National Guard,'' Sgt. Steve Hauck said.
''My own personal opinion, there are always cuts that can be made, but where is the bottom?'', Hauck asked.
Why police, not fire?
''The reason the police are being singled out in this budget process is because they feel the PBA is digging in,'' Williams said when asked why it seemed the police were being focused on more than other departments in the city budget.
''There is proper way to go about making cuts, and it's not just plucking things out of contracts,'' Williams said.
Meanwhile, the chief said his department is the not only one that is taking hits, giving 'kudos' to DPW Commissioner Dave Short, for the way 'he's handled cuts.'
Sizing Up With Schenectady
Often in discussions about whether the UPD is over-sized or over staffed, a comparison is drawn between Utica and Schenectady, but Williams says the numbers often quoted are incomplete.
According to Williams, when city officials or department critics say Schenectady has a police department of about 145 officers, while Utica has 163, ''they are right''. But he says what's usually left out of the conversation is Schenectady police have 80-plus civilian employees, while Utica has just 14.