NEWARK — When Paul Peters learned about comments made by village trustees at the last board meeting, he was disappointed.
“I know how hard they work,” he said of the Newark police officers. “They have the highest stats (closing cases) in Wayne County and that includes the county and state.”
Peters is union president for Local 859, which includes the Newark Police Department, a position he has held for two years. But Peters has been active in the union for many years, working with the county and other local police departments, including Palmyra and Clyde, during union negotiations. For him to hear Mayor Peter Blandino say that unrest is common among police departments and village boards, he was appalled.
“That’s just not true,” he said. “He (the mayor) creates the unrest. It’s not the chief, it’s not the officers. It’s him and a couple of board members.”
Peters said the only department he has problems with is in Newark.
The unrest was made public at the last Village Board meeting when Trustee Jonathan Taylor questioned Chief Dave Christler about sending a patrolman to investigation training. Taylor’s concerns were prompted by money. The class cost of $600 was in the police department’s budget, but there was additional expense in sending the officer to school in that another officer would have to cover his shifts, and that meant overtime. The department is anticipating OT expenses will reach $180,000 this year.
Christler said the training would increase the skills the officer already possesses. But Taylor felt it was only throwing money at a growing problem.
“You’re (the police department) already 41 percent of the budget,” Taylor said at the meeting. “We have to get control of this.”
The board ultimately denied the chief’s request in a 3-2 vote with Taylor, Trustee Helen Blandino and the mayor voting against the request.
Peters concedes the Newark Police Department’s overtime is a bit high compared to other departments, but that is because the department is understaffed. The labor agreement with the village calls for two officers on duty for every shift, requiring current staff to work 16-hour days to keep up. Officer injuries have also been a problem, Peters said, cutting the staff back further while still costing the village money since injured officers still receive full pay and benefits. That’s a state mandate, he said.
Under the police contract, the village has agreed to cover 100 percent of officers’ health insurance and manning shifts with at least two officers.
“Two-man coverage is something I insist on,” Peters said. “With a village this size, it would be impossible for one cop to manage.”
Peters said the department is accomplishing a great deal with the staff they have. As for patrol cars in the parking lot and not on the street - a criticism by Trustee Taylor — it’s part of an officer’s job to process a person following an arrest, said Peters. As liaison to the police department, Peters said Taylor should have a better understanding of what the officers are doing.
“Mr. Taylor is supposed to be the police liaison,” Peters said. “He has no idea what a cop does.”
Peters was also disturbed to learn the mayor felt the department’s vehicles were sufficient. With six patrol cars used by officers and sergeants, the average mileage is just under 90,000 miles, he said. Last week one of the cars with over 120,000 miles was in the shop with transmission and rear-end trouble, Peters said. Another vehicle has over 150,000 miles, and two weeks ago a wheel fell off an officer’s patrol car right in front of Parker’s on Main Street. There’s a liability there, Peters said, noting that someone could’ve gotten hurt.
Peters said he intends to monitor the vehicle situation with the department, and if he has to, he will have each vehicle inspected by the state.
“I don’t want officers in unsafe cars,” he said. “It’s a liability issue. What if that officer had been traveling faster when his wheel fell off? What if someone gets hurt?”
Blandino assured the police department’s vehicles have always met with safety requirements. As for being the cause of unrest, the mayor was unsure what to say.
“He’s entitled to his opinion,” he said. “I’m the mayor of the village and I’m responsible for the police department, and included in that is the safety of the community. As I’ve said before, the board will never jeopardize public safety.”