In recent months, the Gloversville Police Department has been reduced to just 25 sworn officers out of the 37 officers projected in the city’s 2022 budget.
The shortage has forced some senior GPD officials, including Chief of Police Anthony “Tony” Clay, to perform regular patrol duties normally assigned to junior officers.
“I did a few patrols,” Clay said. “Actually, it’s refreshing, to be honest with you. A kind of homecoming, but unfortunately [whenever] you have someone doing a job outside of their regular job, you kind of rob Peter to pay Paul, and you take time off from whatever else you need to do.
Clay said having detectives and command personnel conduct patrols limits the amount of thorough investigation and community outreach work his department can do.
Since last year, GPD has lost six officers to other jobs, including three officers going to local sheriff’s departments, two hired by the New York State Police, one working in the office of the attorney general for the state of New York and a departing agent for the private sector. Some of the other vacancies can be attributed to retirements.
Clay said Gloversville’s policy of requiring at least three patrol desks and one supervising officer per shift is good for safety and helps provide enough police to handle at least two simultaneous calls in the city, but it may also lead some GPD officers to seek work elsewhere.
“The staff shortage is kind of a self-sustaining monster, because we have minimal staff here,” he said. “So if you can’t have a day off when you want to go to the beach with your family or go out and have a birthday dinner, then it’s almost impossible to have a day off because there’s no there aren’t enough people to cover a shift, and on top of that, you’re asked to work overtime or you’re mandated to work overtime on a regular basis, you go find another place where you can getting that leave where your schedule isn’t interrupted by having to work another four hours or six hours or coming in to do a full 12-hour shift, things like that. So as staffing deteriorates, I think the higher the likelihood that people will leave. It feeds on its own.
Clay attributed the lack of officers primarily to too few people being willing or able to take the police civil service exam, which includes both a written test and a physical agility exam.
“We exhausted our list of officials in March,” he said. “It’s a new phenomenon for me.”
Clay said in the past it was common to have a civil service roster with up to 50 potential candidates to fill police positions in Fulton County, but now for Gloversville there are none left. . He said he believes some people have been deterred from pursuing careers in law enforcement due to media reports of scandals involving police, such as the murder of George Floyd and ongoing trials involving police officers. charged with the murder of Breonna Taylor.
Clay said the recent increase in the number of police killed in the line of duty, including “more police being ambushed,” is also a factor in some people not taking the test.
According to the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted database, 129 police officers were killed in the line of duty nationwide in 2021, a 29% increase from 2020.
More officers died in previous years, such as 146 in 2001, 141 in 2007 and 139 in 1998, but the number of officers killed by criminals in the commission of crimes, almost always with weapons on fire, in 2021 was 73 – the highest in at least 25 years.
Clay said he believes the last time a Gloversville police officer was shot was in the early 1990s, and he believes the last time a GPD officer used his gun to shoot someone was in 2002 when an officer shot Ralph Wagoner in his Orchard Street apartment, who was sentenced to 11 years in state prison by former county judge Richard Giardino for two counts of attempted aggravated assault of a police officer and a single count of third degree assault, third degree criminal possession of a weapon and endangering the well-being of a a kid . Wagoner faced up to 75 years in prison when he was initially charged with 28 counts, including two counts of attempted second-degree murder, but eventually agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charges.
Clay said that while GPD members were rarely forced to use their weapons on the job, there were far more incidents of them drawing their weapons in situations that could have turned violent. He said that although the number of life-threatening incidents is relatively low in Gloversville, the danger is still present and it could deter people from taking the police exam.
Another factor may be a significant reduction in the number of people between the ages of 20 and 29 in Fulton County. According to US Census Bureau data, available at www.census.gov, the number of people in their twenties in Fulton County in 2010 was 6,239, but by 2019 that number had declined by 2.3% to 6,103, a reduction of 136 people.
The county’s demographics appear to be poised to continue to decline. In 2010, the number of people aged 1 to 24 in Fulton County was 16,717, but in 2019, people aged 1 to 24 in the county were only 14,647, a loss of 12, 4% equal to 2,070 people.
Fulton County personnel director Terri Souza, who oversees the county’s roughly 37 annual civil service exams, said anecdotally that she recalled there were as many as 200 candidates taking the exam. from the civil service to police/prison officers decades ago and now less than half that number. register for these exams. But, she said, that’s true for all county civil service exams, not just police. She said that in the past, the county regularly received up to 75 people to take the entry-level account clerk civil service exam, but now she only sees 10 candidates taking the exam.
“Recruitment is down in all areas,” she said. “We recently held a Department of Social Services caseworker exam and came up with a roster with just five people. Ten years ago we had a roster of 50 social workers, now we have five people, and they have seven vacancies, so those five people are hired immediately and we’re running the exam again, so it’s down In all areas. ”
Souza said the police review presents more challenges than simply recruiting interested people. She said the physical exam is a major weeder of people from the potential list of candidates for police jobs. She said that of the 61 people who passed the written police civil service exam in May 2021, only 10 made the final list available for hire.
“We start telling people as soon as they pass the written exam to start preparing for the physical, and they have to have a doctor sign a medical release, so we know they’re pretty good, fit enough to take the exam,” she said. “So from the start, we have 27 people who do not return their papers. We had eight who just didn’t show up for the physical. We had seven failures, and they get a retest, so they failed their retest. One of them sent a letter saying he was no longer interested in being nominated, and then after he passed the physical agility test, we sent him what’s called a “web” letter where we asks him if he wants to take a temporary or permanent position. position and which of the three police services [City of Johnstown, Gloversville or Fulton County Sheriff’s Department] they are ready to work. According to our rules, they must return that canvas letter or they are restricted (meaning eliminated from the roster). Eight people did not return the canvas letter. So after all that’s been said and done, we’re left with a list of 10 people that the three agencies can hire. Of these, five have been appointed and five remain, but you have to remember that they may not be interested in being hired in Gloversville.
Clay said the physical agility test is a big factor eliminating too many candidates for police jobs. He said the process should be reassessed.
“I think some of the civil service standards might need to be assessed and retooled,” he said. “We also have a share of responsibility. We are considering trying to implement a prep class so fewer people fail the physical part. We need to think outside the box to figure out how to get more people qualified for these roles in the early stages, instead of waiting for them to pass the test. . . trying to prepare people so they know what they’re going to face.
GPD just had four new officers graduate from the police academy on August 4, and they were able to hire a new officer from another police department. He said the five new officers must go through a 12-week training process during which they cannot be considered officers fully available for regular service. He said his department currently has one more officer in the police academy who is expected to graduate in October.
Given the lack of personnel, the GPD was forced to use senior officers to train new patrolmen.
Mayor Vince DeSantis recently supported giving an 8% pay raise for command officers training new patrol members, but the Common Council voted against the measure 4-3. He said there are benefits to having detectives training new officers because the training is superior, but he wanted pay rises to be a way of dealing with the practical reality of pushing detectives and command staff away. from their regular work to provide training. He said the pay raise would be a good way to say thank you.
“The fact that the chief and the captains and the lieutenants take turns on the street to make sure that all the work is covered, so that’s really something that I’m very proud of them because that’s in- beyond the actual written duties of the officers,” he said.
DeSantis said he knows police recruitment has become a national issue and he believes it has become an emergency.
“My feeling is why something has to be done with PR,” he said. “So we’re making videos and documentaries about the Gloversville Police Department and how the department is certified by the state of New York, an accreditation that many police departments don’t have. The organization is doing a really, really good job, and we’re hoping to get more people on board from other agencies, which is good because they’re already trained, or new recruits. I think that’s what we have to do.