On January 13th, 2016 Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan provided an opportunity to the residents of Clarkstown to interact with him on police related issues. We welcome his responses particularly because of our concern about:
a) The cost of the Clarkstown Police Department;
b) The top heavy overpaid management structure;
c) The need for studies to be conducted to review operational costs in the Clarkstown Police Department and to evaluate potential mergers of the numerous police departments in Rockland County.
None of the questions posed to Chief Sullivan came from any of the administrators of Rockland Voice. Accordingly, we will present Chief Sullivan’s answers to the particular issues we are interested in without editorial comment on our behalf and without editing his remarks. The questions we have not covered here can be read at the link given at the end of this post.
Here are some of the articles in which we expressed our concern about the three issues covered below:
1) Chief Sullivan, has there been any conversation about the Clarkstown Police Department being top heavy? What are your thoughts?
Chief Sullivan: “The current supervisor staffing levels of the Clarkstown Police Department are exactly where they should be according to FBI standards. The recommended span of control is about five or six officers to one supervisor. I say usually because many things can expand or contract this number. The more technical or complicated the work, or the higher you are in an organization, usually reduces the number of people a person can effectively supervise.
As Chief of Police I directly supervise two people, the operations and administrative captains. We have seven lieutenants. The operations captain supervises five of them, the detective lieutenant and the four patrol lieutenants. The administrative captain supervises two, the administrative lieutenant and the special operations lieutenant. This is because the administrative work is usually more technical and requires more hands on supervision and decision making.
Our patrol squads are staffed by about 20 patrol officers, and three sergeants. The patrol lieutenants supervise three sergeants and each sergeant is responsible for six to seven officers. This is right in line with recommended guidelines.
In addition to this you may notice if you compare Clarkstown to other similar jurisdictions that many Towns have multiple police departments within them. The Town of Greenburgh for example has a similar population of 86,000 residents but only about 120 officers. But the Town of Greenburgh also has six village police departments contained within its borders. When you add these up you will find seven police chiefs and about 260 officers. I am not disparaging these great police departments just pointing out that things are often relative.”
2) Good Evening. I am delighted to see this pop up on my Facebook feed. My question is: Given the somewhat negative press and comments I have seen regarding the high salaries, and overtime payments of our Police Department, what do you think might be a solution? I’ve heard a County-wide force may be a cost – cutting option. Any thoughts on consolidation?
Chief Sullivan: “I am never against the idea of looking for better ways to do anything, including policing, but as the Chief of Police my primary focus is on what is good for the people of Clarkstown. The concept of a County-wide police department has both its positive and negative aspects, as well as some serious issues regarding the ownership of property and equipment that exists today. I think this idea is probably way too complicated to expand on in a forum such as this. I can say that the Clarkstown Police Department is one of the most highly trained and professional police departments in the Country, with an excellent response time, that directly serves the needs of the people of this community.”
Thank you for your reply. I can understand the complexities which must be involved in consolidation. I remember when Clarkstown expanded to include the Nyacks. Some were against it, but it has worked very well!
Thanks again, for always being there for us, keeping us safe.
3) Chief Sullivan: “I have been asked numerous times about the so called “$10,000 a day” overtime this department generates, and in anticipation of this question coming up tonight I thought I would prepare an answer in advance as it is a little complicated.
First of all there is not $10,000 a day of overtime generated in the department. This number comes from the total overtime budget for the year and is then divided by 365 days to come up with that number. It leaves the impression that we are spending $10,000 a day in overtime whether we need it or not. This is not true. Some days there is no overtime, while some others there is more than the $10,000. If there is someone barricaded in their home shooting at his neighbors, or there is a homicide or other serious police matter, there is going to be a great deal of overtime generated. It is based on the needs of the moment and the situation at hand.
The majority of the Clarkstown Police Department overtime is generated in three areas which are operations, training, and special events.
The Clarkstown Police are responsible for an area of about 40 square miles with about 84,000 residents. We also have the largest commercial base in the County and that number of people in Clarkstown can easily double on most days. This is primarily because of the two malls in the Town. Also, if you look at the statistics regarding index crimes (these are the quantity of serious criminal events that take place in the Town of Clarkstown and reported by the New York State Department of Criminal Justice) you will find that the Clarkstown Police Department is one of the most active police department in the area. In fact an examination of these “independent numbers” will show that the Clarkstown Police are responsible for investigating over 40% of the crime in Rockland County, but staff only about 27% of its police officers.
The greatest part of the operations overtime is allocated for minimum staffing. As I stated before Clarkstown, has about 84,000 residents. If you use the FBI recommendation for staffing they state that you should normally have 2.5 officers per 1000 population. This would give the department a number of officers in the 210 area. We have 164 officers budgeted for the department. This also does not include the many other services that the Department provides. For example: Juvenile Aid Bureau, School Resource Officer Program, DARE, Street Crime Unit, Traffic Squad, and Community Police. The Department also provides part time units such as the SWAT Team, Accident Investigation Team, Crime Scene Unit, Crime Prevention Unit, K-9 units, and others, Youth Academy, Explorer’s Program, Youth Court, and many others.
To accomplish this with 164 officers we utilize overtime. We feel this keep costs down as it allows us to pay officers only when we need them, and not whether we need them or not. It also eliminates the associated costs with increasing personnel such as benefits, as well as training and equipment costs.
The other large expenditure of overtime is training costs. There is a great deal of mandatory training associated with running a police department. Not maintaining these training standards would lead us to lose our accreditation standing and reduce the effectiveness of our policing efforts. Also, maintaining the proper level of training is the Town’s best defense regarding litigation as it has proven to be numerous times. With staffing levels as they are we would have to assign our officers to training and most likely pay another officer overtime to cover that officer’s shift. Working with our PBA and training staff we were able to condense most of these training sessions into five hour blocks. According to the Federal Fair Labors Standards Act, we still have to pay the officers overtime to attend these sessions off duty. But we cover all of the mandatory training in 5 hour blocks of overtime instead of eight hour blocks. This results in a substantial savings to the Town. It is only through the cooperation of our PBA that this practice is allowed and I am not aware of another police department that has what I consider this excellent arrangement with their union.
The third area of overtime use is special events. Due to both the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as contractual guidelines, we cannot simply adjust officer’s schedules to whatever works best on a weekly or even monthly schedule. The schedules are fixed at the beginning of the year. Since the timing of most of these events are outside police control we often have to add extra officers in order to properly staff them. By properly staffing these events we make sure that events go as planned, everyone is as safe as we can make them, and protect the Town from costly litigation. The Clarkstown Police Department also engages in what is called “contract policing.” In this program private entities contract to have police officers at specific events (movie productions, road paving, etc…) and compensate the Town for the use of these officers. This provides officers when needed and at no cost to the tax payer. About $300,000 has been paid to the Town for these purposes in 2015.
A breakdown of the department’s overtime costs show that about 40% of it goes toward operations, 40% towards training, and 20% towards special events during the year.
As always, we will continue to work towards making the department as efficient and as cost effective as possible. In that effort we have managed to reduce overtime costs in 2015 20% from 2014 levels, and we will continue to work with the Town and its elected leaders to provide the people of Clarkstown with the best and most efficient police service while working diligently to reduce costs whenever possible.”