SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR) — Following a violent week in Syracuse including the death of two teens, Mayor Ben Walsh warns of “dangerously low” staffing numbers at the Syracuse Police Department and worries about having enough officers patrolling the streets.
Currently, there are approximately 360 officers on the force. When Walsh took office nearly four years ago, there were about 400 officers. Veteran officers remember a 500-strong force in the 1990s.
Based on the current population and evolved police policies, Walsh has funded approximately 430 police officer positions in his budget. The mayor says he’s funded one class of police recruits for each year since he took office, but incoming officers are outpaced by a historic surge of retirements or resignations. Sixty officers have left between 2020 and 2021.
Police Chief Kenton Buckner says, “It’s difficult when people can make more money for a less strenuous environment.”
In the year since George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis officer, police departments across the country face less support from the people they protect. The work inherently comes with additional trauma.
Any day now, Syracuse Police will switch to “Summer Deployment” status, which puts more officers in high-crime areas when the weather is nice. The department is having a hard time getting officers to volunteer for extra shifts.
“Long-term, it’s not safe or sustainable to be mandating overtime for officers just to hit minimum staffing levels,” Walsh says. “It puts a strain on the agency.”
Walsh says he had a solution. In 2019, his administration proposed a labor contract that offered raises for officers after 20 years of service. The police union agreed, but the Syracuse Common Council did not.
Walsh asks rhetorically: “Is it expensive? Absolutely. But we’re looking at the alternative. The Common Council voted down the contract. We saw this coming. If that contract was in place in 2020, I don’t think we’d be in the situation we are.”
Walsh has funded a fourth class of recruits, who will be sworn into the academy in July. The mayor doesn’t expect relief for the force until those recruits are fully-trained officers on the streets in 2022.
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