PBA: Patrol coverage in crisis soon

JOHNSTOWN –The head of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputies Police Benevolent Association has recently made statements about the possibility of the department’s road patrol and night patrol being eliminated because of personnel shortages, according to Sheriff Richard Giardino.

But Giardino this week countered some of the statements, saying that is not the case and praising his current relationship with the Fulton County Board of Supervisors.

“I’m not trying to stir the pot,” he said.

Giardino, who was elected Tuesday to another four-year term, responded to PBA President Keith Manners.

“I thanked supervisors for approving people and programs since I’ve been sheriff, and I thank the remaining deputies for working their off days and the part-timers for helping out,” Giardino responded this week.

Manners said this morning that the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office continues to lose deputies to nearby agencies such as the Glove Cities’ police departments, where they can make $10,000 to $15,000 more. He called it a “huge problem.”

He said he “absolutely” feels if the sheriff’s department doesn’t get more personnel, night and road patrols are in jeopardy.

“It’s a matter of dynamics,” Manners said.

“The Board of Supervisors are not taking action to take care of the problem,” he said.

Manners said the department basically has an “east and west car” during any given patrol shift, but it might have to come down to one car centrally located in Johnstown.

In a three-page “press statement” issued to area media, Giardino said it was in response to two recent Facebook posts and a letter to the editor by Manners. He said the posts have generated “thousands of views and numerous comments.”

In a Letter to the Editor headlined “Board of Supervisors need to address the sheriff’s office crisis,” Manners wrote : “It is very clear by the Fulton County Board of Supervisors’ words and actions, that public safety is not a priority of theirs. The sheriff’s office has been out of a contract since 2017 and is severely underpaid compared to that of the surrounding police agencies, yet the Board of Supervisors will not address the pay disparity. The Board of Supervisors felt that “sharpening their pencils” was equal to less than $15 a pay period for the deputies. What an insult to the hard working deputies that protect and serve Fulton County on a daily basis.”

Manners added: “Several deputies have left for higher paying positions with other agencies and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office is barely operating with the 14 road patrol deputies that it has. What is further disturbing, is the anticipated retirements that can occur immediately and those projected within the year.”

Giardino said this morning that he felt he had to respond because there is no intention at this point to end road patrols or night patrols.

“I appreciate what they’ve given me,” the sheriff said of county legislators.

But Giardino said it takes 10 months to a year to train a deputy for police work, and the process to hire takes time too. He said loss of personnel at the sheriff’s office has occurred since the mid-1990s. He said the county cut 14 officers under former Sheriff Thomas Lorey, with only five coming back.

“On August 1, 2019, we had a total of 19 road patrol positions, all of which were filled. Of those, one was in the L.E. Academy and three were in field training. As such, they were unavailable to patrol individually. That left us with 15 patrol deputies available for individual patrols.

“As of today, we have 19 Road Patrol positions. Of these, one Sergeants’ position is unfilled. There are 2 vacant positions, 2 Corporals are out on medical leave and one deputy is in the Academy. This leaves us with only 13 available members for the road patrol.

“Even with overtime and the few part-timers we have, this low number creates an unsafe condition for the deputies and the public at large. Fewer patrols available means longer response times for routine calls. We handle over 14,000 calls for service a year. Until we are back up to full staffing, calls for service will have to be handled by 25 [percent] fewer deputies,” the sheriff said.

“Ideally we should have 20 members on the Road Patrol,” Giardino said. “This would guarantee the minimum coverage for the safety of the deputies and the public. I requested an additional deputy for 2020 and this request was cut by the Budget Committee. The reason given was that I had four open positions at that time why should they create another? The fact that I have unfilled positions doesn’t diminish the need for more deputies. If anything, we need more deputies in the training pipeline to fill the road patrol on a revolving basis.”

In an Oct. 21 internal document from the PBA to the Fulton County Board of Supervisors, the union stated: “The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office is slotted 19 road patrol positions, which is significantly less then past years. At this time, the road patrol only has 14 positions filled with one recruit in the academy. The office also foresees another deputy lateral transferring to a surrounding agency by the end of the year, which would leave us with only 14 full-time road patrol deputies.”

PBA officials stated: “The union understands in the perfect world of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors, our agency would be compared to “comparable” other state agencies. However, our office hasn’t lost one person to what you would consider a comparable agency.”

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.


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