PBA of New York State Implores Governor and Legislature to Address Impending Mental Health Crisis
Staffing Shortages Caused by Compensation Inequities Inhibit Ability to Respond to Mental Health Incidents
Albany, NY (January X, 2022) – The PBA of New York State today urged Governor Hochul and the state legislature to assist them in protecting those dealing with mental health crises by addressing staff shortages caused by inequities in the compensation and retirement benefits paid by the state.
Three state police agencies, which include the New York State Park Police, New York State University Police and Encon Officers and Forest Rangers from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, have been operating for nearly 3 years without a contract and are among the few police agencies in the state without a twenty-year retirement option for their officers.
“We’re losing officers every day across the state to local police departments that provide better retirement benefits and compensation and that’s creating serious staffing and experience shortages that will prevent us from being able to respond to people experiencing mental health crises,” said PBA of New York State president Manny Vilar. “We are a proactive police force that is often called upon to save the life of a person experiencing a mental health crisis and these current deficits are jeopardizing the state’s ability to keep people safe.”
Villar points to the recent Niagara Falls incident in which an elderly woman suffering from depression committed suicide by driving her vehicle into the Niagara River less than 100 yards from the brink of the Falls. Had the State Park Police been properly staffed there might have been a less tragic ending. During 2021, State Park Police at Niagara Falls successfully intervened in 33 mental health crisis events, safely taking individuals to the hospital where they could receive the mental health care they needed. Unfortunately, there were four suicides at Niagara Falls with two victims recovered and two still missing. Even one death is a tragedy too many and might be averted with proper staffing.
Staffing levels are dangerously low for a number of reasons. Because of former Governor Cuomo, PBANYS members work under outdated contracts – creating a wide pay disparity with municipal and state law enforcement agencies. In addition, poor recruitment, the failure to run academy classes, and an antiquated retirement system that incentivizes PBANYS officers to seek out jobs with other agencies have led to a mass exodus from PBANYS member agencies. These loses are unsustainable and threaten public health and safety.
Governor Cuomo also sought to eliminate New York State’s oldest law enforcement agency – the State Park Police – by issuing an ill-conceived executive order to merge them with the New York State Police (Troopers). As a result, there has not been a State Park Police Academy since the Spring of 2019 and the State Park Police have seen their numbers dwindle from 387 to 190 officers at a time when state parks have seen an exponential increase in use due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PBA of New York State welcomes Governor Hochul’s recent expression of support for negotiating a 20-year retirement for its members and the union welcomes the opportunity to work with a governor committed to public health and safety rather than the former administration that actively worked against the union and was known to negotiate in bad faith. As Governor Hochul prepares to submit her budget to the state legislature PBANYS respectfully urges her to include the 20-year retirement as a critical component in implementing her agenda for a healthier, safer, cleaner and more equitable New York for all residents.
Vilar concluded by saying, “Governor Hochul’s signal that she wishes to work with our union is a refreshing change to the way Albany has traditionally worked and a clear sign that she shares our commitment to doing everything we can to keep New Yorkers healthy and safe. No person who puts their life on the line to protect and serve New Yorkers should be forced to make the difficult choice between remaining with the agency they love or providing for their family. Governor Hochul’s recent statements give our members and their families reason to be hopeful for their future and the state’s as a whole.”
ABOUT: Established in 2011, the Police Benevolent Association of New York State (PBA of New York State), is a law enforcement labor union representing the interests of approximately 1,200 members of the New York State Agency Police Services Unit (APSU). The PBA of New York State is the exclusive bargaining agent for the New York State University (SUNY) Police, the New York State Environmental Conservation Police, the New York State Park Police, and the New York State Forest Rangers. Our members police and protect New York State’s public universities and colleges; state parks and historic sites; and they enforce state laws and protect our lands and forests and ensure environmental safety and quality throughout the state.