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Police hold interviews for 4 spots on the force Tucker says more should be hired

The city Police Board is holding interviews today as it looks for four police officers to fill current or expected vacancies, but Mayor Michael W. Tucker said he thinks the city should hire even more cops.

"We'll probably need more officers than that," Tucker said last week. "I'd like to see them hire a couple more."

This year's city budget doesn't have money for more than four hires, but Tucker said there's a chance he could seek to add positions in the 2008 budget, which he will submit to the Common Council in late August or September.

"It could very well have more officers in there. I think the Council is interested in looking at it," Tucker said.

Last December, when Police Chief Neil B. Merritt went before the Council to urge expanding the department above its current level of 48 officers, Tucker urged the Police Board to "be creative" in reallocating manpower.

Tucker is a candidate for re-election, facing recently retired city detective Michael J. Pillot, who said when he declared his candidacy that he would hire more cops "if they're needed."

"I'd like to do that down the road because of all the stuff that's going on in the community," said Alderwoman Flora M. McKenzie, D-3rd Ward. "We've got to hire the four first."

Alderwoman Phyllis J. Green said she still favors realigning the Police Department.

"We are getting a new chief in January. Let him look at reallocating different jobs, different shifts," said Green, R-2nd Ward.

Merritt's retirement at the end of the year is anticipated, along with that of Traffic Capt. Ronald Vogt. Those, along with Pillot's departure, will cause some promotions up the line, creating three of the patrol vacancies that will be filled.

The fourth spot results from the reassignment of Officer Scott Snaith from patrol duties to a full-time post as resource officer at Lockport High School. Snaith's salary there will be paid by a state grant.

Merritt declined to comment on his retirement. He did say the only officers on the civil service list to succeed him are Detective Capt. Lawrence M. Eggert and Patrol Capt. Jeffrey Brodsky. The Police Board makes the choice, although the Council can veto it.

As for filling patrol vacancies, McKenzie, a Police Board member, said last week there could be a couple of "lateral transfers" -- officers being hired away from other departments.

Merritt said the problem with that is that since 2003, the city's contract with the Hickory Club, the police union, has required new officers to live in the city. "I've spoken to a couple of [outside officers] who just bought houses and don't want to sell them," Merritt said.

But the upside to hiring transfers is that they already have gone through a law enforcement academy and have experience.

"Just a couple of weeks' orientation and they're on the road and productive," Merritt said. A rookie hired next week probably wouldn't graduate from the police academy until January, Merritt said.

He said he would ask the Police Board to seek a waiver of the residency rule if Monday's interviews don't produce satisfactory candidates among city residents.

"I'd rather have police live in the city," McKenzie said, adding that residents already have criticized the Council during public comment periods for letting officers hired before 2003 live outside the city.


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