N.Y. police contract would raise pay, provide LEOs with more backup and days off

The revamped patrol schedule provides efficient police staffing while also giving officers more days off to recover from stressful work

By Tim Knauss

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse city councilors today will consider a new five-year police contract that would give patrol officers 49 more days off each year while also increasing the number of cops on duty during the busiest shifts.

The revamped patrol schedule – a key component designed to improve officer retention — provides more efficient police staffing while also giving officers more days off to recover from stressful work, Deputy Chief Richard Trudell said. By working 10-hour days instead of eight, officers would work the same number of hours but get more days off.

Members of the Syracuse Police Benevolent Association ratified the contract Tuesday.

If the Common Council approves the deal, officers will get annual cost-of-living raises averaging 3.35% over the five years. Over the span of the contract, that would add $10.9 million – or about 18% — to the yearly cost of salaries and benefits.

The starting salary of $53,800 for a police officer would gradually increase to $63,992 in late 2027. Pay for sergeants would rise from $97,800 this year to $116,328 in late 2027.

The pay increases are comparable to what Syracuse firefighters and police unions in other Upstate cities have won recently, said Corey Driscoll Dunham, chief operating officer.

The police department is under-staffed and has struggled to recruit and retain officers. There are currently 382 sworn officers, 15 of whom are still in training and not on the street. The city budget provides for 423 officers.

City officials said their primary objective in designing the new contract was to improve recruitment and retention.

Syracuse lost a record 21 officers to resignations during 2021, and 37 others retired. The department lost another 22 to resignations and retirements in 2022.

Many of those who quit cited the current work schedule known as “the wheel” — four days on and two days off – as a key reason, Trudell said.

“We had a record number of resignations in the last couple of years. We’ve talked to those folks, and we asked them, ‘Why are you leaving?’ And one of the overwhelming answers that we get is, ‘The schedule.’ "

The proposed contract mirrors the work schedule used by the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, a prime destination for officers who quit the Syracuse department, Trudell said.

Patrol officers would work a 15-day schedule: four days on, three days off, four days on, four days off. As a result, they would get 170 days off per year. The key to making it work is extending the work-day from eight hours to 10, city officials said. That way, officers will work the same number of hours each year as they do now, but get more days off.

Having three 10-hour shifts means there will be overlap for six hours each day, allowing the department to put extra cops on the street when the most calls typically come in. From 8 p.m. until midnight, for example, the plan is to have 66 officers on patrol compared with 48 currently.

During slower periods, on the other hand, the patrols will be less heavily staffed. From 6 a.m. until 2 p.m., for example, there would be 27 cops on the street compared with 36 now.

Every 15 days, the three shifts would coincide and come together for a “power day,’’ when double the usual number of cops would be scheduled to work. Police officials plan to use those days for training, community relations and quality-of-life calls, Trudell said.

“I think we all knew we had a relatively inefficient work schedule (before),’’ said Tim Rudd, the city budget director. “So this is a mutually beneficial arrangement.’’

Joe Moran, president of the PBA, said his members generally liked the proposed new schedule when surveyed about it.

“I really pursued the officer wellness component, that our members are able to have more rest days to recover from a very stressful work environment,’’ Moran said.

The contract puts new limits on sick time to make sure that staffing does not fall below necessary levels, Dunham said. The deal includes financial incentives not to use sick time, and stricter rules to discourage improper use. For example, officers cannot put in for voluntary overtime within 48 hours of taking sick time.

Rudd said the new patrol schedule should cut down on overtime, unanswered police calls and other symptoms of a short-handed police force. City officials plan to monitor those metrics. If the new schedule causes problems – which Rudd said he does not expect – the contract gives police officials the right to revert to the old schedule.

Syracuse has struggled for years to negotiate on-time contracts with police. If the new contract is approved, it will be the first in at least three decades not to be mostly retroactive, Trudell and other officials said.

The previous contract, approved in March 2022, covered 2018 through December 2022. The contract before that, which resulted from arbitration in July 2021, covered 2018 and 2019.

Dunham said it’s unusual to propose a five-year deal, but the lengthy contract will provide the city with financial certainty that makes long-term planning easier. Common Councilor Pat Hogan, a member of the finance committee, said the deal looked appealing at first glance.

“Initially, I was impressed,’’ he said.

Councilor Chol Majok, who chairs the public safety committee, could not immediately be reached for comment. Councilors will get their first chance to discuss the proposed contract during their study session at noon today.

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