Public safety and police staff safety are at risk, according to the Albany Police Officers Union.
"We're just trying to bring some issues to light." Albany Police Officers Union President David Verrelli defends two articles posted to the union's Facebook page: One warning city residents may be in danger due to understaffing of emergency dispatchers handling 9-1-1 calls; the other regarding ongoing problems at the South Station building.
Verrelli says the Albany police communications division is running under the minimum staffing required to ensure coverage during emergencies. "In emergency services, speed is of the essence. Everybody needs their call answered as quickly as possible so we can get the proper resources to them as soon as possible, so we can get the proper resources to them as soon as possible. When those calls are delayed due to lack of manpower to answer the phones, especially during the busy times of the day, the, precious minutes perhaps are lost. Is it a life and death scenario all the time? No. But even if you had a simple fender, I'm not talking about a loss of life but at the same time I'm talking about a quality of service. Those individuals that are involved in that fender bender expect a police presence within a normal amount of time. And if those calls are stacked, the officers might not get the call right away, and therefore a delay happens, and by the time the officers get there the folks are upset. That's not acceptable."
Verrelli says it’s city hall’s responsibility. "The city of Albany residents need to speak up to the mayor and the common council and ask that very question. How do we fix it? This is not a officer issue. This is not a command staff level problem. It's an issue that needs to be solved at the mayor and common council level."
Common Council President Corey Ellis said he was unable to comment for this story. WNYT reports that Acting Police Chief Mike Basile called the situation "unfortunate." The union says there are 40 dispatcher positions but the city currently employs 30. Employment is restricted to city residents. Basile told the TV station that only five dispatchers were staffed instead of seven and that the city will begin canvassing for recruits next week.
During his recent introduction to the Albany press, Mayor Kathy Sheehan's pick for Police Chief Eric Hawkins pointed out that recruitment and retention of police personnel is a nationwide issue. "One of the things that I'm looking at, one of the things I've done in the community in which I'm coming from is to talk to young people, see the value of a law enforcement career. And that means, you know, getting out into schools. It means, you know, a lot of marketing and branding type things that you can do."
Hawkins noted that young potential recruits are handled carefully. "We may miss some things when we're recruiting if we focus solely on pay and benefits when we're looking at young people in this profession."
Meanwhile, South Station's basement flooded during the recent heavy rains. A photo on Facebook was posted along with an article that says, in part, "If this was any other building in the city it would be closed and not allowed to reopen until properly cleaned and decontaminated." Again, David Verrelli: "Just as in any place of business, any employee would be concerned with the quality of their workplace. And after a flood, you, like any concerned employee, would expect to see a professional remediation service come in and make that place right. Obviously, in any flood situation, there is mold concerns, stale air, breathing quality problems. And any employees would be concerned that their workplace is quote-unquote not safe, dirty. Unfit. All we're asking for is where is the professional remediation service to come in and clean the place up?"
Mayor Sheehan's chief of staff Brian Shea responded to a request for comment by email, referring questions about dispatch to Acting Chief Basile, who was unavailable for comment. And regarding the situation at South Station, the email says, in part, "Buildings and streets throughout the city flooded on Friday. Parts of City Hall experienced it too. The Mayor personally visited South Station and other buildings in the neighborhood that experienced flooding in their basements. This administration will continue to make investments to increase the City’s capacity to handle storm water and mitigate flooding as we have been doing for years.”