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AS a dozen Yonkers police officers celebrated their retirement at a party last month, more than 200 people rose to their feet while the Pipes & Drums Corps of the Police Emerald Society of Westchester performed a bagpipe version of “The Minstrel Boy.”
“You saw a lot of years of service walk in that door,” said Capt. William Cave, the commanding officer of the Yonkers Police Department and the master of ceremonies at the retirement party at the Polish Center here.
Those nine men and three women are among 35 Yonkers police officers who have retired in recent months, raising concern among some law enforcement and elected officials that the city will not have enough officers on the street at a time when the crime rate is edging up in some precincts.
With Yonkers facing a midyear projected shortfall of $16 million for the current fiscal year, and up to a $100 million budget gap in the fiscal year starting July 1, the mayor canceled a scheduled Police Academy class in January that would have trained recruits to fill the holes left by the wave of retirements.
“We have been decimated by the retirements,” said Detective Keith Olson, first vice president of the Police Benevolent Association, the union serving the Yonkers police. “We simply do not have enough cops.”
The department’s budgeted 641 police positions have declined to 606 in the last six months, said Edmund Hartnett, the police commissioner. While the number of officers on patrol duty has not decreased, the department has eliminated its burglary unit and school patrols.
Staffing is not the only challenge that the Yonkers police are facing. Since the early 1990s, some civil rights advocates have questioned the department’s handling of accusations of police brutality and the use of force during arrests.
Last year, a federal grand jury indicted a Yonkers police officer on charges of violating the civil rights of a 44-year-old woman by slamming her to the ground during an arrest. A hearing in the case is scheduled for this month, said Herbert Hadad, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office.
Mr. Hartnett said staffing levels in the department had been a constant concern from the time he arrived as police commissioner in November 2006. “For two-plus years, all I’ve been hearing is that the Yonkers Police Department is too small to meet the needs of the city,” he said.
He added that he would favor “more police officers and a reasonable overtime budget” pending a more thorough assessment of the city’s needs.
Typically, police vacancies are filled with graduates of the Westchester County Police Academy in Valhalla, Mr. Hartnett said. The academy graduates two classes a year and supplies municipalities throughout Westchester, county officials said.
The commissioner said he was hopeful that the city would send recruits to the academy class scheduled to begin in July.
Mayor Philip A. Amicone did not respond to messages left with his spokesman, David Simpson, regarding that decision and other matters related to the police.
But others in the administration acknowledged the high number of vacancies. “We have about 35 vacancies right now, and that is considered high,” Deputy Mayor William T. Regan said.
Those enrolled in the 20 weeks of training at the Police Academy are paid at a starting rate of about $45,000 annually, said Lt. Diane Hessler, a spokeswoman for the commissioner. The cancellation of Yonkers’s January class, Commissioner Hartnett said, postponed training for recruits who would have replaced some of the recent retirees.
Late last year, the city also eliminated several police specialty units, including the burglary unit, the D.A.R.E. drug education unit and the school resource officer program, which placed officers in middle and high schools. About 40 officers from those units were redeployed to patrol duty in January, Lieutenant Hessler said.
The move was intended to help curb overtime, which has long hampered the city, Commissioner Hartnett and several City Council members said. Overtime in the Police, Fire and Public Works Departments cost nearly $9 million this fiscal year, city officials said in December when announcing program cuts to close the projected $16 million budget gap.
In his State of the City address late last month, Mayor Amicone said that cost-cutting measures had succeeded, essentially eliminating this fiscal year’s shortfall.
But the savings and recent retirements come at a time when statistics released by the police commissioner’s office show increases in violent crime, which includes murder, rape and robbery. There were 71 violent crimes committed in January 2009, compared with 62 in the same month last year, and 75 in February 2009, compared with 60 in February 2008.
Those increases were especially significant in the Third Precinct in southwestern Yonkers — 34 cases in January compared with 27 in January 2008, and 44 in February compared with 28 incidents in February 2008.
Sandy Annabi, the majority leader of the City Council, represents District 2, which includes the Third Precinct. Ms. Annabi, who has a degree in criminal justice, said the large number of police retirements only exacerbated what she called the pressing issue of police understaffing.
“We would have less need for that overtime if we were filling in the gaps that have long existed when it comes to the police,” she said. “Overtime is a Band-Aid effect, and we have to rip that Band-Aid off.”
Her view was shared by several of the retirees at the recent celebration at the Polish Center, including Anthony Casareale, 51, a patrol sergeant with 23 years of policing, 20 of them in Yonkers. For Sergeant Casareale, the decision to end his police career was a result of “working harder in a more dangerous environment,” he said, citing not only the elimination of specialty units but also the fact that because of the city’s efforts to curb overtime, foot patrols no longer follow minimum staffing levels.
“We are a 600-man department trying to do a job suited for 1,000,” he said.
The police force in Yonkers, whose population is about 200,000, is smaller than police departments in some municipalities of a similar size. For instance, the police department in Rochester (population 207,000) has more than 800 employees and the department in Orlando, Fla. (population nearly 230,000), has more than 1,000.
Within Westchester, however, the city leads by far in terms of police manpower: more than 600 compared with 250 for White Plains (population 57,000) and 195 for Mount Vernon (population 68,000).
To more accurately determine the staffing needs of the Yonkers Police Department, the mayor’s office and the City Council are backing an independent study of the Fire and Police Departments.
“We know we’re in trouble,” said Councilwoman Joan Gronowski, whose district includes portions of the Third and Fourth Police Precincts, where some types of crime are rising.
Ms. Gronowski, who introduced the resolution to the staffing study of the Police and Fire Departments, said such an assessment was long overdue and would provide the analysis needed to determine whether the police need to augment their numbers beyond the current allotment.
Mr. Hartnett agreed, saying that the last time the city conducted a similar survey was in 1988. “I would like to see the study done,” he said. “It’s long overdue.”
I included this article because the last paragraph had me ROFLMAO. The reporter actually thought her family would have a comment about her driving without her pants?!
Yonkers police say a drunken driver from Rockville Centre had a suspended license and had marijuana in her car. Oh, they also say she didn’t have any pants on.
Yonkers police say 22-year-old Angelica Buchanan was found Saturday standing bottomless in a street near her car.
They say she was so drunk she had to be hospitalized.
Police say she claimed she wasn’t wearing pants because she needed to use the bathroom.
They’ve charged her with driving while intoxicated, unlicensed operation of a vehicle and marijuana possession.
A telephone message left at her family’s Rockville Centre home last night hasn’t been returned.