NY police chief to serve in ‘civilian capacity’ because he can’t pass fitness test

Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner said he'll carry out his administrative duties but won't wear a uniform or be allowed to carry a gun


By Patrick Lohmann
syracuse.com

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner announced Friday that he will serve in a “civilian capacity” atop the police department because he cannot pass a stringent physical fitness test required of sworn officers.

Buckner, who became chief in December 2018, said he is unable to run 1.5 miles in 13 minutes and 50 seconds.

Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner speaks at a press conference on Thursday, June 11, 2020.
Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner speaks at a press conference on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (Katrina Tulloch/Syracuse.com)

“While I have improved my fitness and can complete the majority of the physical requirements, I am unable to finish the 1.5 mile run in the required time,” Buckner said in a statement. “With the next deadline approaching early December, I have decided at this time not to continue to pursue state certification.”

The lack of state certification does not impact the chief’s ability to serve, Buckner said in the statement.

But “out of respect for the certification process and all those who have completed it,” Buckner will not wear a police uniform while serving as chief.

Buckner, who was hired from his previous position as chief of police in Little Rock, Ark., came here on a provisional basis until he was able to get certified as a New York officer. In the meantime, he’s been afforded all the rights of a standard cop, including carrying a gun and badge.

The state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services allows one year for an out-of-state transfer to get certified here. That certification, for Buckner, included 386 hours of training as well as a physical fitness exam.

In November 2019, he was given a one-year extension to pass the certification requirements, but he announced Friday he would no longer seek the certification.

Buckner will no longer have arrest powers or be allowed to carry a gun, but he stressed that he will carry out of all his administrative duties in charge of the department as before.

“I had my own private disappointment moments, but I thought it was important enough given my position in the city to be transparent,” he said of the decision not to seek the certification and why he announced it Friday. “...Everyone knows how tough it is to get in shape.”

[READ: How to achieve 'functional fitness']

Mayor Ben Walsh, at a news conference, praised Buckner’s performance as chief and said the lack of certification should not make the public doubt his ability to run the department.

“His ability or lack thereof to run a mile and a half in under 13 minutes has absolutely no bearing on his ability to do the job,” Walsh said.

The Syracuse police union has made an issue of Buckner’s certification. The union clashed with Buckner in early 2019 over public comments the chief made about officer behavior, among other things. Many officers refused to march in the annual St. Patrick’s Parade in a public display of discord with the chief.

Buckner’s full statement is below:

Today, Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner announced he would not continue to pursue New York State police officer certification. Under local and state law, the Chief is not required to be a sworn officer. Chief Buckner is able to continue as Chief in a civilian capacity ( New York State Attorney General Formal Opinion No. 85-F12).

Chief Buckner shared the following message with the Syracuse Police Department today:

"During the past two years and with the assistance of many colleagues in the department, I have completed all of the 350 hours of classroom training for my state certification, as well as the proficiency tests for defense tactics, firearms, and emergency vehicle operations. While I have improved my fitness and can complete the majority of the physical requirements, I am unable to finish the 1.5 mile run in the required time. With the next deadline approaching early December, I have decided at this time not to continue to pursue state certification. This decision does not impact my ability to serve as Chief. Out of respect for the certification process and all those who have completed it, I will not wear a police uniform while serving as your Chief.

Throughout this process, I have met many talented instructors that work for the Syracuse Police Department, and I’ve been impressed by the quality of instruction. I want to offer special thanks to the Training Academy staff for their guidance and assistance during my training. I also greatly appreciate the countless number of people who have offered encouragement and prayers.

My commitment to this department and to being your Chief has never been stronger. Thank you for the work you all do every day for our department and our City."

(c)2020 Syracuse Media Group, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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