LOCKPORT – The city is trying to work out an arrangement with its police union that would allow dispatching to be shifted to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, and it also intends to buy a new police dog, Common Council President Joseph C. Kibler said Thursday.
Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert said of the dispatching move, “If it’s cost-effective, you would be crazy not to do it. … We could pull a guy onto the road, and it would really help our overtime.”
However, the new contract approved last December by the Council and the Hickory Club Police Benevolent Association envisioned the hiring of three civilian dispatchers who would be Hickory Club members and work at Lockport Police Headquarters. For the move to county dispatching to be made, the union’s approval would be needed.
Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey reaffirmed Thursday her opposition to hiring civilian dispatchers for the city because of the cost. For the same reason, McCaffrey said, the financially strapped city can’t afford to let Eggert replace two officers who retired this year.
Hickory Club President Matthew Hurtgam declined to discuss the dispatching issue Thursday, but Kibler, who also serves on the Police Board, said the main question is how much the county would make the city pay for the service.
In 2012, when North Tonawanda shifted its police dispatching to the Sheriff’s Office, the city transferred six civilian dispatchers to the county, but the city had to pay their entire salary and benefits for a year and a half, with partial payments continuing through 2016.
Lockport has no workers to transfer. Sheriff James R. Voutour said Thursday, “I do know that I could not do it properly with my current staffing. I would have to hire.”
“We want to find out how much we’d have to pay,” Kibler said. “It works everywhere else; why wouldn’t it work in Lockport?”
The city has spent $216,698 on police overtime through the first half of the year, which is 54.1 percent of the amount allocated in the budget. By contrast, Fire Department overtime, which has triggered an effort to cut fire services, stands at $321,752, or 62.8 percent of the budgeted total for the full year.
Short-staffing caused by retirements and military deployments has resulted in some police officers working 18-hour shifts to meet the minimum staffing standard of six officers per shift. The Hickory Club’s new contract shifted the base schedule from eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts.
Kibler said he expects the Council to vote at its next meeting to buy a new police dog, replacing the one that went into retirement with Officer Steven Ritchie on June 2. McCaffrey said, “I believe there’s support for that.”
Eggert said the costs of buying and training the dog and installing a kennel at the chosen officer’s home could be defrayed by drug forfeiture payments from the Drug Enforcement Administration. He said the city has received some offers of donations.
“If it’s over $10,000 for the dog and everything, that would be a lot,” Eggert said.
Citizens have been signing petitions for the city to keep a police dog on the force.