Article written by Eddie Velazquez & Kevin L. Smith.
The Cortland City Police Department is seeking to expand its patrol division, with four officers undergoing the hiring process, according to city police chief Paul Sandy.
Sandy noted the city is part of a national trend that has seen dwindling recruitment classes, which leads to smaller departments across the country
During Friday’s City of Cortland Police Commission meeting, Sandy said the department is looking for eight more spots to fill in the department’s staff, with four officers-in-training undergoing the academy process. The hiring process, Sandy noted, could take up to a year, with the potential new officers arriving during the spring of 2022.
The usual format for a patrol shift would have nine officers out on the street. That number is down to seven, and even lower when days off, sick and vacation time are factored in, Sandy said.
“Typically we put three officers on the road and one behind the desk,” he said.
Sandy added he is hoping he won’t need an officer behind the desk, as the department shifts away from holding those arrested until they are arraigned.
“We are shifting to where we aren’t being a custodian of bodies, to where we make an arrest and they go to the county for arraignment. That way we aren’t having an officer sit behind the desk,” Sandy said.
With this shift — and once staffing numbers are back up — the police chief said he expects to have more officers answering calls for information rather than service calls. He added that, as it stands, 99 percent of calls that come in are forwarded to the 911 Dispatch Center
“We have a very good relationship between officers and the community and we are building on it daily. We are out there to serve,” Sandy said, noting that the department has had to make sacrifices like suspending Stop DWI Program patrols. “We have to focus on our calls for service. That’s our primary job.”
Sandy noted the officers have not stopped DWI enforcement during their normal shifts.
“But our people are very busy, our calls for service are skyrocketing and we have to be (out) there,” he added.
The short staffing situation, Sandy said, is not for a lack of trying. The department has made consistent efforts in the past year to fill out vacancies.
“We hired two people at the end of May, the last two viable ones off the list that we wanted — and they didn’t make it,” Sandy said. “I would have felt a lot better with those two because they would have been coming back in late December. They would have helped us tremendously.”
In order to tend to dispatched calls, the department had former community-oriented police officer Jesse Abbott split time between his community-based duties and being on patrol. Abbott retired earlier in the summer after 21 years of service.
“He(Abbott) would do a mixture of his (community-oriented program) duties, but if we needed him on a day shift to do something, we would utilize him,” Sandy said. “Him being gone is a hit for us.”
Sandy added the department has been actively recruiting on social media, through word of mouth, and with hiring signs found throughout the city.
“Here is the situation: everybody is drastically short,” Sandy said, adding that similarly sized, neighboring areas like the counties of Tompkins, Broome, and Onondaga, are struggling to find suitable applicants.
The chief also said he wants to request a certain amount of funds from the city from the American Rescue Plan — a national stimulus package passed by federal legislators earlier this year. The funds would be used for an extra stipend that would go to officers who were on duty during the rise of the COVID-19 epidemic last year, as well as improved equipment for officers.
Sandy did not disclose a specific sum.
“As much as I can get,” he added. “I’ll take what they give me.”