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POLICE ABSENCES IMPERIL THE PUBLIC, GRIFFIN SAYS

A growing police absenteeism rate that is now averaging 80 to 100 officers a day has become a threat to public safety, Mayor Griffin said today.

"It's a shame what they're doing because they're really jeopardizing the safety and welfare of citizens and people who come into the city," the mayor said today in an interview.

The mayor also disclosed an administrative change he will institute: Parking Violation Bureau employees will write all parking tickets. Griffin said he plans to have police withdrawn totally from such duties. That will reduce the number of 911 calls to police by 20,000, he said.

Griffin said his administration has enough officers assigned to street duty and they are paid well, but the city's anti-crime effort has been hamstrung by restrictions on manpower distribution and sick-leave abuse.

"The worst thing the Council ever did was to mandate 44 officers to each precinct," he said. "I'm from South Buffalo. People may yell and scream, but they don't need 44 police. We don't have the crime they do in other areas."

Voters approved the City Charter restrictions, which also mandate three patrol cars for each precinct, in 1987.

Recent stories in The Buffalo News have reported that most of the city's 14 police precincts have been staffed below the Charter requirement and officers have little time to deter crime or answer many calls for service.

One of the reasons for the problem is an increase in sick-leave use that often has more than 10 percent of the force out at any one time.

"On Nov. 16, we had 95 people on sick leave," the mayor said. "I called Commissioner (Ralph V.) Degenhart yesterday and he said between 80 and 100 are off sick on the average. People don't realize that."

The mayor said Buffalo has as many or more officers per capita as any city in the United States its size or larger. He also said that since he became mayor, 102 police have been reassigned from non-patrol duty to jobs that directly protect the public.

The sick-leave issue has compounded other losses on the department, Griffin said. During the past 17 months, 20 officers have been forced to resign for criminal and disciplinary reasons. An additional 14 officers are on leaves of absence, mostly for pregnancy, and another 10 officers are on military duty in the Persian Gulf.

At the same time, calls for service to the department have risen. Griffin said the city will have 27,000 more service calls this year than in 1989.

The mayor said the city also is working with the police union to end short turnarounds on shifts. Sometimes officers are required to come back to work an afternoon after an overnight shift.

"We know it's killing them and we're trying to work on it," Griffin said. "But the union wants something back."

The mayor said he's irritated at court rulings that have favored the unions over the city. One in particular is a decision that allows officers to leave their homes even when they've called in sick that day.

"It amazes me and boggles my mind that if they report sick, they don't have to be home," Griffin said.

Another important change, he reiterated, would be to allow one-officer patrol cars in the city's safest areas.

In a related matter, Degenhart told the Council today he expects 40 to 50 officers will take early retirement because of recent changes in pension laws approved by the state.

Degenhart said those retirements will further strain police manpower. He said there are 16 recruits currently in training at the police academy. Four others failed and had to be dropped.

The commissioner said police hope to have 30 recruits in a new class beginning in February.

The mayor said he has a good record with police. There have been no layoffs and the average salary of an officer has grown from a range of $9,980 to $12,000 in 1977-78 to between $22,727 and $30,726 today.

The average member of the police union earns about $37,000 in cash when all costs are figured in, the mayor said, and fringe benefits bring the cost to the city to around $47,500. That figure includes salaries paid to ranking officers.

"I say this means they're not underpaid," Griffin said.

The mayor also said politics has not entered into promotions within the department. Seniority should not be the sole factor determining who is promoted, he added.

"People are promoted because they are doing a good job for the city, not because they are doing a good job for Jim Griffin," he said.

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