OGDENSBURG — At City Council’s most recent meeting, Ogdensburg Police Lt. Robert Wescott gave a presentation to keep council up-to-date on the impact of layoffs at the police department.
The meeting was held in City Hall for council members and some presenters while the public and other interested parties could only view and participate on the webinar platform used by the city.
Since restrictions on public gatherings were put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, City Council meetings have been beset with technical issues.
Early meetings were postponed after the number of people wanting to participate overwhelmed the program.
The last two meetings have been difficult to hear.
Lt. Westcott’s presentation, which he gave in the Council Chambers was mostly inaudible to online listeners.
Lt. Westcott read his seven-page presentation, which was made available to the news media by Assistant City Manager Andrea Smith later in the week.
The vote to lay off four city police officers and reduce the department’s overtime budget by 40 percent has created a significant impact on the department, Lt. Westcott said.
The impact on staffing levels is greater than expected, he said. When the plan was first announced, it called for four positions to be eliminated, because the chief announced his retirement before the resolution passed and there was one open position, officers believed the number would be adjusted.
Instead, Lt. Westcott said, the number remained four and three of the police officers laid off sought and found work in other departments quickly.
“It takes about 10 months to get an officer hired, trained and counting as manpower on the road,” Lt. Westcott said. “Other communities are now taking advantage of our city’s investment.”
The situation will add to the Police Department’s ability to recruit and retain officers, he said. In the past 13 years, Ogdensburg has had to hire 35 new officers.
While they have been able to take advantage of having a School Resource Officer with no school duties, there is one patrolman and two detectives out on work-related injuries.
The staffing shortage overlaps with the overtime cut, he said.
“As with any profession, staff can only work so many hours in a day. They have days off and as previously stated they have contractual time off,” he said. “Reduction in staffing levels directly increases the amount of overtime it takes to staff the shifts and sometimes just to get the job done.”
The reduced overtime budget would be difficult to reach, he said.
“I do not see how the department will not go over on its revised 2020 operational budget of $63,784 no matter how personnel may be shifted or scheduled,” Lt. Westcott said.
“There are many issues that needed to be looked at that simply weren’t looked at,” Councilor Michael B. Powers said at the conclusion of Lt. Westcott’s presentation.
Councilor William B. Dillabough said that other communities do well with fewer police officers.
“They got shifts over in Potsdam with one guy,” Mr. Dillabough said.
The cuts were made to keep the city solvent, he said.
“We gotta work together,” Mr. Dillabough said. “Sometimes there are seven police officers down at the station. You don’t need seven guys down there.”
Lt. Westcott said there are never seven officers on shift, that there are administrative staff and a chief at the station but not seven police officers.