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November 8, 2021 - 9:58pm

Council urged to take steps to hire, retain officers to get City of Batavia Police Department back to full strength

The City of Batavia’s police force needs to be at full strength because “it’s getting terrible out there,” a longtime civil servant said tonight at what looks as though will be her last meeting as a member of City Council.

Sixth Ward Council member Rose Mary Christian, when she heard that three officers have left the Batavia PD for policing jobs in other communities, asked City Manager Rachael Tabelski for the reasons surrounding their departure. Then, at the end several minutes of discussion, she encouraged city leaders to do what they could to hire and retain new recruits.

“I hope my colleagues will give a raise to hire more police … they do deserve it,” Christian said.

While providing Council with a list of updates from Batavia Ice Arena door replacements to the opening of bids for renovation of Jackson Squarer to software updates for utility and tax collection, Tabelski mentioned that the police department is close to evaluating Civil Service test results to hopefully fill the open spots.

(By the way, the city is looking to hire four firefighters as well, and in both instances, navigating through the Civil Service process.)

That touched a nerve with Christian, a staunch advocate for the police and fire departments.

When Christian asked why they left, Tabelski replied that is was for “multiple reasons,” including more money and benefits and the ability to be closer to their families. The city manager did note that Batavia police officers do not receive lifetime healthcare – something that was a benefit in years past.

Tabelski said that once Civil Service test scores are published, Police Chief Shawn Heubusch will be able to determine the number of qualified candidates.

Council member John Canale said he agreed with Christian, but suggested that the board work with Tabelski to look at the current pay and benefits package, and compare that to other similar size cities. He noted that metropolitan cities are a “completely different environment.”

Christian responded by saying that she believed “the majority of (criminals) are coming from Buffalo and Rochester” and blasted the current bail reform law as “ridiculous.”

Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. asked if the city would be able to recoup any of the money it spent on the training, including enrollment in the police academy, for those who left the department.

Heubusch explained that if someone was hired as a lateral transfer that would apply and, in this case, one of the three fit into that category. He said he has made a request for reimbursement from the Town of Greece and is waiting for a response. The other two were hired off the Civil Service list, so there is no option for any return of city expenses.

Following the meeting, Heubusch said the Civil Service “bureaucracy” actually restricts the hiring of potentially successful officers. He said that of the about 120 who signed up for the most recent test, he’ll be fortunate to get one or two that complete the process of testing well, and passing the physical agility, psychological and other tests.

The chief mentioned that all police agencies across the state called for an overhaul of Civil Service during their work with community partners on former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NYS Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative initiative.

Currently, the Batavia PD has 29 officers with the three vacancies and one position frozen as a result of negotiations with the union.

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