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The New York state Capitol in Albany

ALBANY — The state is squandering millions of dollars each year by refusing to address the high rate of turnover at several state law enforcement agencies according to the head of a police union.

Officers from the state park police, the SUNY campus police, and the Department of Environmental Conservation's police and forest rangers often leave their jobs for municipal police agencies that offer better retirement and compensation packages, said Manny Vilar, president of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State.

To get those officers certified, the state spends about $120,000 in police academy costs for each of them, Vilar said. Some are jumping to other agencies just a couple of years after they complete the training.

"They are literally throwing away millions of dollars every year," Vilar said. "Our guys are leaving for greener pastures, rightfully so."

The municipal agencies that hire those officers are getting a bargain because the new hires come already trained, he added.

The solution, he believes, is simple: Provide the state officers with a benefit package that allows them to retire at half-pay after 20 years, an arrangement in place at many police agencies throughout the state, including the State Police.

To be at full strength, the park police, whose officers work for the state Department of Parks and Recreation, would need 387 officers. It currently has about half that number, Vilar said.

Getting the force back up to full strength would allow it to better protect public safety, the PBA leader said. He cited last month's death of a woman who suffered from depression and drove her car from Niagara State Park into the Niagara River, perilously close to the American Falls. Had park officers been nearby, Vilar said, there is a chance that death, ruled a suicide, could have been prevented.

The vacancy total at the SUNY campus police was not immediately available, he said. That number tends to fluctuate, Vilar noted, adding that recruitment efforts are ongoing at the campuses. But the state parks agency has not hired any new police officers since 2019, he said.

The Department of Environment Conservation, meanwhile, has "made a strong commitment" to filling the approximate 40 police vacancies it has now, Vilar said. But it, too, is impacted by high turnover.

"You hire them and then you lose them," Vilar said.

A spokesman for Gov. Kathy Hochul's Division of the Budget, Shams Tarek, did not respond to an inquiry about the state's plan to deal with the vacancies and the union's proposal for a 20-year retirement benefit.

In vetoing the 20-year pension bill that had been overwhelmingly approved by both houses of the Legislature, Hochul said last week that she is aware that "for certain groups of state employees ... there is a growing concern about the current level of retirement benefits and its impact on the agencies' ability to recruit and retain the best officers."

Hochul said she wants to bring labor and management executives together this year to discuss ways to increase retention of the officers.

"New York state must have the best and the brightest," she said.

When the public safety component of Hochul's budget is examined by lawmakers this year, the discussion will include input from another law enforcement labor leader, Thomas Mungeer, president of the New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association.

Mungeer told CNHI the State Police now has about 4,600 troopers but at least 400 more are needed as demands for their services soar.

"Our people are on mandated overtime every day," Mungeer said, noting he will request the Hochul administration ensures the State Police gets the authority for two "back to back" academy classes, with 250 trooper recruits in each class.

"The other thing we need are cars," Mungeer said. "We need more money for patrol vehicles. The troopers are driving cars that are high mileage, and it's dangerous. So we need more funding for people and we need more funding for equipment such as vehicles."

Mungeer noted he is pleased Hochul has signaled plans to greatly expand gun violence intelligence operations while also doubling the number of community stabilization units, enabling the troopers to partner with local police to target crime problems specific to local communities.

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