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Saratoga Springs considers plan to shorten patrol officer shifts

A still of police body camera footage depicting one of the alleged shooters on the sidewalk on Broadway following Sunday's early morning shooting in Saratoga Springs
City of Saratoga Springs Police Department video uploaded to YouTube
Image capture by WAMC
A still of police body camera footage depicting one of the alleged shooters on the sidewalk on Broadway following Sunday's early morning shooting in Saratoga Springs

The City of Saratoga Springs is considering shortening the length of its police shifts from 12 to 10 hours as it seeks to shore up staffing levels.

In February, the Saratoga Springs Police Protective and Benevolent Association objected to a plan to reduce 12-hour patrol officer shifts.

After what he called months of negotiations, city Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino announced his department had reached an agreement with the PBA to reduce the length of shifts to 10 hours.

“The sweet spot is a 10-hour shift, four days a week. Which is a 40-hour work week over four days,” said Montagnino.

Speaking with his fellow Democratic city councilors Tuesday night, Montagnino went over details of proposed revisions to the labor relations contract between the city and the PBA, citing benefits of a10-hour shift as outlined in a federal Department of Justice study.

The first-term Public Safety Commissioner explained the terms of the Memorandum of Agreement would allow a maximum overtime of four hours, with the following day’s shift limited to 10 hours.

While Saratoga Springs currently has seven patrol officers in the academy, the city is looking for ways to attract more applicants. Montagnino said he also wants to attract applicants of color. Of 70 sworn members of the city police department, only one officer is a person of color.

Giving a hypothetical example, Montagnino said the new formula would be attractive to officers interested in transferring into the department.

“Part of the current memorandum that’s under discussion is that idea of providing the attraction for an experienced officer to want to join the Saratoga Springs Police Department. I would submit that an officer with five or more years of experience would not be likely to want to join if that officer understood that he or she would be asked to work 16-hour back-to-back-to-back overtime shifts,” said Montagnino.

The proposal also includes longevity bonuses based on an officer’s years of service.

Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi asked Montagnino for more information related to how surrounding police departments base pay on years of service.

“So if we could data on longevity bonuses for police in other cities and towns…”

“That’s a good question because one of the officers that we recently lost went to a town that just adopted longevity bonuses,” said Montagnino.

“Absolutely, so that’s what I want to know,” said Sanghvi.

“Glenville,” said Montagnino. “And what was interesting is at the time of the transfer, what was reported publicly was that this individual was taking a pay cut. And what I found out later was, if you look at the base pay the answer is yes. But because that person is getting year-for-year credit on his transfer with the longevity bonus, that difference evaporates,” said Montagnino.

“Absolutely,” said Sanghvi. “And so that’s why I’m saying that the more data we have and the more asks that I can make right now…when it comes up for a vote, I’m not asking you at that time.”

Mayor Ron Kim was skeptical of Montagnino’s proposal.

“I think we tried to do too much with this discussion,” said Kim.

Kim recalled when 8 hours was the length of a shift. The former two-term Public Safety Commissioner served from 2005 to 2009, at the onset of the Great Recession when the city was forced to cut staff including police and fire.

With that in mind, Kim questioned the long-term financials of the bonuses and other provisions within the Memorandum of Agreement.

“I don’t see myself supporting this at this point given the breadth. Narrow the scope, and you got me. But not with this breadth.”

Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran was more supportive of Montagnino’s proposal.

“I commend you for making these efforts. Like anything, I think, maybe there’s some subtle tweaks. There’s obviously some additional selling that needs to go on for everybody at the table, but I’d be happy to help you work through that pro forma. These are the types of things that I do all the time,” said Moran.

The Saratoga Springs PBA voted to approve the Memorandum of Agreement with the city on Monday.

While the proposed MOA was discussed, contract changes were not voted upon Tuesday evening.

Tuesday’s discussion follows city council approval of a Memorandum of Agreement related to Public Safety lateral transfers earlier this month.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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