New Yorkers aren't in jeopardy because of budget cuts that have reduced the number of state troopers, the Paterson administration said Wednesday, disputing police union complaints.
A hiring freeze ordered by Gov. David Paterson includes the statewide force, and there are no current plans for a recruiting class. With his budget proposal for 2010-2011 due shortly, union and police officials are claiming conflicting staffing figures.
"The budget decisions that have been made during this historic economic crisis have been difficult, but they have been made in a way that protects public safety," Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said. "Now, special interests are trying to score political points against the governor for making the tough calls _ special interests whose appetite for increased spending is responsible in part for the state's fiscal crisis."
The Troopers Police Benevolent Association, which represents uniformed officers, said Wednesday its dues-paying membership has declined by almost 300 troopers in the past three years to 2,700, and road patrols are increasingly covering wider areas.
State police officials say there are 2,768 troopers, down 91 from last year's all-time high of 2,859. They are part of a larger force of 4,819 that includes investigators, sergeants and commissioned officers, down a total of 126 over the year. The agency also has 947 civilian employees.
"The bottom line is the governor's poor judgment in refusing to replenish the ranks of troopers and authorize troopers to cover shifts through overtime is endangering public safety," Trooper PBA President Thomas Mungeer said. At the same time, he said troopers have been reassigned to the detail protecting Paterson, which has grown to more than 200 officers.
"It's all downhill from here unless we start filling the gaps," Mungeer said.
State police spokesman Lt. Glenn Miner said the Executive Services Detail includes the troopers providing security at the entire Empire State Plaza, the State Office Campus and the Executive Mansion in Albany, the governor's New York City offices and officers who stay with Paterson. Citing security issues, he declined to disclose numbers.
The state police now set the detail's staffing, independent of the influence of Paterson or his staff, following issues about political influence that arose under former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Hook said. Staffing was realigned to cut overtime, he said.
Gordy Warnock, spokesman for the Troopers PBA, said Wednesday the attrition rate for uniformed troopers is about five per pay period, or 120 a year, while it takes a year to train replacements. Shifts to the governor's detail or special assignments like helping city police in high crime areas or collecting tobacco taxes affect road patrols, he said.
"Every time a new special detail comes out, there's a collective groan from the troopers on the road because they know they'll be covering someone else's spot," Warnock said.