A call to duty for some members of the National Guard who are also city police officers has Police Superintendent Christopher J. Carlin facing a manpower crunch.
Four officers recently were activated by the New York Air National Guard. "They could be gone up to a year. That's what we've been told," Carlin said. Three other officers, he added, are off duty because of long-term injuries, he said.
That leaves Carlin seven officers short, despite the addition of nine officers expected this week.
"These are circumstances beyond our control," Carlin said. "We have to be supportive."
Carlin's manpower problems became evident more than a year ago as he faced the loss of 18 officers through retirement or injury.
To compensate, he hired three officers late last year and three others who transferred from other departments. Nine more new officers were sent to the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy last winter and will finish their 16 weeks of field training within the next two weeks. They should be on patrol by Tuesday.
At that rate, Carlin had hoped the department would be only three officers short of its level before the departure of the 18, and he said he had been looking forward to having enough manpower to spread around.
But any hopes of filling five vacant positions were dashed early this month when Mayor Irene J. Elia announced that she was considering eliminating the jobs because of the city's budget problems.
As a result, Carlin said he will have to make do and "shift people around where they're needed," as he has been doing over the past year.
He said several positions will remain empty so he can keep his uniformed units at acceptable levels.
"This won't impact on road patrols," Carlin said. "Officer and public safety are our top priority."
On the bright side, "things are better than they were before," Carlin said, noting that even with the loss of several officers, he still has more officers now than he once did.
"It won't kill us, and most of the vacations are over," he said, making it easier to fill in when problems arise.
In a related manpower-related matter, Carlin said another Patrol Division officer soon will be assigned to work at Niagara Falls City Court and will not be replaced, stretching his manpower out a bit more.
He also pointed out that, earlier this year, he had assigned Officer Jon Shumway, a Patrol Division officer who worked the City Jail booking desk, to investigate computer crimes earlier this year because of the increase in high-tech crime.
But the police car shortage that has been causing problems for more than a year should end at least temporarily sometime in November, when all 15 new patrol cars that the city purchased last spring should be ready for the road.
He also said Niagara County officials are working with the city to provide five used police cars from the Sheriff's Department. He said a contract is being drawn up so the city can purchase them for something like $1 apiece since the county is not allowed to give them away as a gift.
At various times over the past year, officers have complained that on-duty patrol officers and detectives have lacked cars because the many vehicles in the department's ancient fleet -- most of them 1998 models or older -- continually broke down, sometimes resulting in shortages.
Because of the shortfall, officers also said that, at times early this year, two officers had to be assigned to a patrol vehicle.