Citizens concerned over police, community

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 29, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Many residents are concerned about the inequity of Suffolk Police Department’s pay scale and they believe that Suffolk’s Police Department has become a training ground for officers who leave in search of higher paying departments. They are also concerned with the lack of officers and overworked personnel.

With those facts in mind, a dozen residents representing several civic leagues and police officers met Wednesday evening with city officials to make their concerns known.

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Angela Koncz, a Brewer Avenue resident who attended the Wednesday meeting, said she knows police officers who are working additional part-time jobs to make ends meet, leaving them overworked and putting their lives in potential danger while protecting this city.

&uot;We are concerned because several police officers have left the employ of the city just since January, to take jobs at Lipton Tea and other places because they can make more money,&uot; said Koncz. &uot;We are concerned that City Manager Steve Herbert and Assistant City Manager Cindy Rohlf are trying to blind the citizens by stating that we have 155 employees in the police department.

&uot;We do have 155 police personnel, but in fact that number includes the chief, captains that don’t answer calls, line officers, communication officers — which is also short of personnel — parking ticket ladies, school crossing guards, animal control officers, and others who are not on the streets.&uot;

Michael Imprevento, the attorney for the Suffolk Police Officers’ Association, Local 5022, added that on any given day, a grand total of only 10 to 14 police officers are on the streets to protect a city of about 67,000 people. He also pointed out that officers must take sick leave, participate in training, testify in court and take emergency leaves, just like everyone else.

&uot;That leaves only a handful of officers to take care of the city,&uot; he added. &uot;The city is protected to the credit of the police department administration and officers willing to make the sacrifice of their personal time to keep the city safe. But in return, you have overtired police officers who are working part-time jobs to compensate their income and support families. This situation is critical and dangerous for the officers.&uot;

Imprevento added the problem lies within city management and that some action must be taken immediately to insure the safety of Suffolk’s officers and citizens.

If the city actually budgeted for 155 police officer positions, it would add approximately eight to 10 officers per all six squads, said Detective Joyce L. Williams, union vice president.

&uot;There are three shifts that work day shift, evening shift and midnight shift,&uot; said Williams. &uot;Three squads cover the northern end. Basically the dividing line is the 58 by-pass and Route 460. There are three squads that cover the downtown core area and the entire southern end of the city, averaging six to eight officers in the southern core area and four to five in the northern end on any given shift. There are even less officers on the midnight shifts.&uot;

She added that an increase in positions would help relieve the overworked, overburdened officers, detectives and drug investigators.

&uot;Already, the officers have been told to prepare to work a lot of overtime this summer,&uot; said Williams.

On top of that, several officers are in various training schools at any given time, which also takes away from the number of officers available to take calls.

&uot;Right now, there are four officers going to K-9 school and several other training schools. The city officials say there are 150 officers, but on any given day we could have six or seven officers patrolling the south side of the city, and if during the midnight shift someone calls in sick, an officer ready to leave his term of duty for the evening is asked to remain on duty for a second shift.&uot;

Williams added that Suffolk’s police officers and detectives are &uot;trying to keep it together&uot; but they all tired.

&uot;We have 19 new recruits, but they won’t be out of school for weeks yet and then they still have to ride with a training officer for several more weeks,&uot; she. &uot;Yes, calls are being answered, because officers are made to work over. On day shift a couple of days ago, there were only 4 officers working downtown. That means the entire southern half of city including the core area. I understand the staff is about to start denying extras like civic meetings and other programs, and I don’t want to see that happen.&uot;