In recent months, the Gloversville Police Department has been reduced to as few as 25 sworn officers from the 37 officers budgeted for in the city’s 2022 budget.
The shortage has forced some of GPD’s senior staff, including Police Chief Anthony “Tony” Clay to perform regular patrol duties normally assigned to younger officers.
“I’ve taken a few patrols,” Clay said. “Actually, it’s refreshing, to be honest with you. Kind of getting back to the roots kind of thing, but unfortunately [whenever] you have somebody doing a job outside of what their regular job is you’re kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and you’re taking time away from any other tasks on hand.”
Clay said having detectives and command staff doing patrol work limits the amount of in-depth investigations and community outreach work his department can do.
Since last year, GPD has lost six officers to other jobs, with three officers going to local sheriffs departments, two hired away by the New York State Police, one taking a job with the New York state Attorney General’s Office and one officer leaving for the private sector. Some of the other vacancies can be attributed to retirements.
Clay said Gloversville’s policy of requiring at least three patrol offices and one supervising officer per shift is good for safety and helping to provide enough police to handle at least two simultaneous calls in the city, but it can also cause some GPD officers to seek to work elsewhere.
“The staffing shortage is kind of its own self-feeding monster, because we have minimum staffing here,” he said. “So, if you can’t get a day off when you want to go out to the beach with your family or go out and have a birthday dinner, when it’s almost impossible to get a day off because there’s not enough people to cover a shift, and on top of that you’re either being asked to work overtime or mandated to work overtime on a regular basis, you’re going to look for someplace else where you get can get that time off where your schedule isn’t interrupted by having to work another four hours or six hours or come in for a whole 12-hour shift, things of that sort. So, as the staffing gets worse, I think the higher the likelihood of people leaving. It just feeds itself.”
Clay attributed the lack of officers primarily to far too few people being willing or capable of taking the police civil service exam, which includes both a written test and a physical agility exam.
“We exhausted our civil service list in March,” he said. “That’s a new phenomenon to me.”
Clay said in the past it was typical to have a civil service list with as many as 50 potential candidates on it to take police jobs in Fulton County, but now for Gloversville there are none left. He said he thinks some people have been dissuaded from pursuing a career in law enforcement due to media reporting on scandals involving the police, like the murder of George Floyd and the ongoing trials involving police officers charged in the killing of Breonna Taylor.
Clay said the recent uptick in the number of police officers killed in the line of duty, including “the ambush of more police officers”, is also a factor in pushing some people away from taking the test.
According to the FBI’s “Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted” database, there were 129 police officers killed in the line of duty nationwide in 2021, a 29% increase from 2020.
More officers have died in prior years, like 146 in 2001, 141 in 2007 and 139 in 1998, but the number of officers killed by criminals in the commission of felonies, almost always using firearms, in 2021 was 73 — the highest it’s been in at least 25 years.
Clay said he believes the last time a Gloversville Police officer was shot was in the early 1990s, and he thinks the last time a GPD officer used their weapon to shoot anyone was in 2002 when an officer shot Ralph Wagoner in his Orchard Street apartment, who was sentenced to 11-years in state prison by former county Judge Richard Giardino on two counts of attempted aggravated assault upon a police officer and single count of third-degree assault, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and endangering the welfare of a child. Wagoner had been facing the potential for as many as 75-years in prison when he was initially indicted on 28 counts, including two counts of attempted second degree murder, but ultimately agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charges.
Clay said that although GPD members have rarely been forced to use their guns while on the job there have been many more incidents when they’ve drawn their weapons in situations that might have become violent. He said although the number of life threatening incidents is relatively low in Gloversville, the danger is always present, and that might be a deterrent to people taking the police exam.
Another factor may be a significant reduction in the number of people aged 20 to 29 in Fulton County. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, available at www.census.gov, the number of 20-somethings in Fulton County in 2010 was 6,239, but by 2019 that number had declined 2.3% to 6,103, a reduction of 136 people.
The demographics of the county appear to be poised to continue to decline. In 2010 the number of people in Fulton County between the ages of 1 and 24 was 16,717, but by 2019 the people aged 1-24 in the county were only 14,647, a 12.4% loss equal to 2,070 people.
Fulton County Personnel Director Terri Souza, who oversees the county’s 37 or so annual civil service exams, said anecdotally she can remember when there were as many as 200 applicants taking the police/corrections officer civil service exam decades ago and now less than half that number will sign up for those exams. But, she said that’s true of all of the county’s civil service exams, not just for police. She said in the past the county would routinely get as many as 75 people taking the entry level account clerk typist civil service exam, but now she sees as few as 10 applicants take the exam.
“Recruitment is down across the board,” she said. “We recently held a department of Social Services caseworker exam, and we established a list with only five people on it. Ten years ago, we had a list with 50 case workers, now we get five people, and they’ve got seven vacancies, so those five people are hired immediately and we’re holding the exam again, so it’s down across the board.”
Souza said the police exam has other difficulties beyond just recruiting people to be interested. She said the physical exam is a major eliminator of people from the potential list of candidates for police jobs. She said of the 61 people who passed the written police civil service exam in May 2021, only 10 made the final list available to be hired.
“We start telling people as soon as they pass the written exam to start getting ready for the physical exam, and they have to get a physician to sign a medical release, so we know they’re well enough, fit enough to take the exam,” she said. “So, right off the bat we have 27 people not return their paperwork. We had eight who just didn’t show up for the physical exam. We had seven fail, and they get a re-test, so they failed their re-test. We had one send a letter that they were no longer interested in being appointed, and then after they do the physical agility test we send them what’s called a ‘canvas’ letter where they are asked if they want to take a temporary position or a permanent position and which of the three police agencies [City of Johnstown, Gloversville or Fulton County Sheriff’s Department] they are willing to work. According to our rules, they have to return that canvas letter or they are restricted (which means eliminated from the list). Eight people didn’t return the canvas letter. So after all of that is said and done we’re left with a list of 10 people all three agencies can hire from. Of them, five were appointed, and there are five left, but you’ve got to remember they may not be interested in being hired at Gloversville.”
Clay said the physical agility test is a big factor eliminating too many candidates for police jobs. He said the process should be reevaluated.
“I think some of the civil service standards could use an evaluation and a retooling,” he said. “We also have some responsibility. We’re looking at trying to put together a prep class so not as many people fail the physical portion of it. We have to think outside the box for how to get more people qualified for these positions from the beginning stages, instead of waiting for them to take the test . . . trying to prepare people so that they know what they’re going to face.”
GPD just had four new officers graduate the police academy Aug. 4., and they were able to hire one new officer from another police agency. He said all five of the new officers are required to complete a 12-week training process during which they can’t be considered officers fully available for regular duty. He said his department has one more officer currently in the police academy set to graduate in October.
Being so short staffed the GPD has been forced to use senior officers to train new patrol officers.
Mayor Vince DeSantis recently supported providing a 8% pay increase for the command officers providing training for new patrol members, but the Common Council voted the measure down 4-3. He said having detectives train new officers has benefits because the training is superior, but he wanted the pay increases as a way of dealing with the practical reality of taking detectives and command staff away from their regular work to provide training. He said the pay bump would be a good way of saying thank you.
“To have the chief and captains and lieutenants have actually been taking shifts on the street to make sure all of the work is covered, so really it’s something I’m very proud of them for because it’s over and above the actual written duties of the officers,” he said.
DeSantis said he knows that recruiting police officers has become a nationwide problem, and he believes it has become an emergency.
“My feeling is why have to do something with public relations,” he said. “So we’re actually doing some videos and documentaries of the Gloversville Police Department and how the department is certified by New York state, an accreditation that a lot of police departments don’t have. The organization does really, really good work, and we’re hoping to get more people interested in transferring from other agencies, which is good because they’re already trained, or new recruits. I think that’s what we need to do.”