Bethlehem worried about budget as PD seeks more officers

BETHLEHEM, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The Bethlehem Police Department wants more officers on the force, but the town is worried about budget constraints.

The number of officers in the Bethlehem Police Department has reduced to 37 from 44, but the department is seeking more. They have the support of two unions that are negotiating a new contract with the town.

Police have been without a contract since the beginning of the year. They’ve been entrusted to protect the residents of Bethlehem, but their job has gotten harder as the number of positions has reduced.

Town Supervisor John Clarkson defended the move.

“Adding seven officers would be over $1 million a year, so we can’t afford to do that, obviously,” he said. “Moreover, we’ve been constant at 37 officers for the past three years. That’s more than Guilderland and more comparable departments have.”

That has become one of the sticking points of the ongoing contract negotiations. Also included in the negotiations are sick time, vacation time and overtime. Last year, the town had a consulting firm review overtime. It found there were more than 8,000 hours of overtime in 2013 that cost the town more than $443,000.

“It’s not about the overtime,” Bethlehem Supervisors’ Association President Sgt. Stephen Kraz said. “They’re overworked. We just want adequate staffing.”

“We want them to be first in the region,” Clarkson said. “First in everything: service; good compensation; be well-equipped. The only thing is that we would rather that they not be first in overtime.”

As the negotiations continue, the unions have been handing out lawn signs. They said it’s a way to unite the community and remind residents of the work the police do.

bethlehem police

“We obviously heard [Clarkson],” Kraz said. “I think he needs to hear us. And I think we need to come to a resolution and put this dispute behind us and really work towards getting back to what’s important – that’s the service to the town residents.”

Clarkson also put scheduling changes into effect at the beginning of the year that was aimed at cutting down on overtime.

“The things that we used to do, the oversight we used to have, the command structure that was in place is not here now,” Bethlehem Police Chief Louis Corsi said. “And so that means added responsibility for those that remain.”

Corsi is not a member of either union and isn’t part of the contract negotiations, but he said as the number of people living in the town increases, they need more officers; not fewer of them.

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