NY Plans to Resume State Park Police Hiring | Government and politics
By Thomas J. Prohaska The Buffalo News
The New York City Parks Police’s waning strength will be bolstered next year, State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said Friday.
In a memorandum released by his office, Kulleseid announced that Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposed state budget includes funds for a new Park Police Academy class this fall, with its graduates hiring in the spring of 2023.
A state parks spokesperson said it’s “fair to say” policy on the future of the park’s police has changed since Hochul replaced Andrew M. Cuomo as governor a while ago. five months.
The union representing park police officers, the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, had accused Cuomo of trying to make the park police disappear by merging them with the state police.
Neither current nor new members of the Park Police will become state troopers, although coordination between the New York State Police and the Park Police will continue, the parks office said. of State.
A bill to formally merge the agencies never escaped the committee of the state legislature.
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“I am pleased that, although staffing and operations across the agency have been difficult over the past few years, the Governor’s proposed executive budget provides relief to us, including within the ranks of the police. of the park,” Kulleseid wrote in his note.
Union President Manny Vilar expressed the union’s “sincere gratitude to Governor Hochul for his leadership in revitalizing the State Park Police after years of neglect by the Cuomo administration.”
He also hailed “the renewed spirit of civility and cooperation that is proving to be the hallmark of the Hochul administration.”
The union says 72 officers have left the Park Police since Cuomo ordered the state police takeover of the agency in December 2019, and none of them have been replaced. Vilar said it would be “meaningful and substantial” if Hochul officially rescinded Cuomo’s 2019 police memo.
Cuomo’s 2019 Park Police memo was actually signed by Kelly Cummings, Cuomo State’s director of operations and infrastructure.
In addition to planning an academy class, Kellseid promised “immediate efforts to strengthen and stabilize the park police force and improve recruitment and retention of park police officers,” assuming the final budget includes the financing desired by Hochul.
The state park office and the union disagree on exactly how much park police have been downsized since Cuomo’s 2019 directive.
But both sides agree that the state once had many more park police officers than it does today.
The current number is around 190, down 24% since 2019, according to the state. Union figures show a 51% drop.
Union blames attrition on salary which lags other police departments; a policy that requires park police to work 25 years to receive a full pension, while most other police departments only require 20 years; and the prohibition of transfers from one park region to another.
The halt in transfers has led to a series of resignations by park police officers joining local departments near their hometown, union leaders told The Buffalo News earlier this month.
“Even now, active discussions are underway to address recruitment and retention challenges, particularly in downstate areas,” Kulleseid wrote in his memo.
He also said that new vehicles are awaiting delivery and that “requests for additional equipment including utility off-road vehicles, drones, etc. will be advanced. Additionally, over the next year , we will continue to work with the state police to develop and implement a longer-term public safety strategy for our parks and sites.”
Kulleseid’s memo “represents the first of many steps necessary to secure the future of the New York State Park Police, diversify its ranks, and most importantly, keep our state’s parks safe,” Vilar said. .