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Sep 17, 2008 9:49 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Debate on forced retirement for police officers continues

Sep 17, 2008 9:49 AM

Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot is facing two problems with the town’s police department: an aging force and a $4.5 million deficit.

And last month, Ms. Kabot was confronted by angry police officers when she planned to introduce a resolution that, she said, was aimed at addressing both problems.

Had that resolution passed, six veteran officers who have put in at least 20 years of service would have essentially been terminated as of the end of this year. The move would have prevented them from enhancing their retirement benefit, which increases for each year they work beyond 20.

In light of the $4.5 million shortfall in the police fund, Ms. Kabot says the town needs to cut costs by eliminating higher paid officers from the force to make room for new recruits who are paid less. The officers in question make upward of $100,000 a year, while new recruits make about half that amount. According to Ms. Kabot, when officers retire after 20 years, they receive half of their salary in pension.

Before introducing the resolution at the board meeting on August 26, Ms. Kabot announced she was going to hold off calling for a vote until the board’s meeting on Tuesday, September 23. In the meantime, the supervisor said she would hold a series of meetings on the matter with all interested parties.

At its work session Tuesday, the board met with lawyers for the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA), Southampton Town Police Chief James Overton, and the town labor lawyer, Vincent Toomey.

Ms. Kabot explained on Tuesday that her resolution was in response to a formula devised by Chief Overton that evaluates officers based upon how often they showed up for work. According to Ms. Kabot, the chief’s initiative began under former Town Supervisor Patrick Heaney. Chief Overton reviewed the number of days missed from work over a five-year period by each of the force’s 20-year veterans, and came up with a list of those who should be allowed to continue on the job.

Ms. Kabot said the town has the discretion to permit officers to stay on the force after they reach the 20-year mark as long as they have not reached the mandatory retirement age of 55. That retirement age jumps to 60 for members of the department holding the rank of sergeant or higher.

Of the 92-member force, 26 officers, not including Chief Overton, are eligible for retirement. Having completed his review, the chief presented a list of 20 officers that he recommended be retained by the town based on the formula he was given. The six not on the list would be forced into retirement.

But Seth Greenberg, the attorney for the PBA, contends that forcing officers into retirement without due process and good cause is contrary to the New York State Constitution and the 1990 collective bargaining agreement between the town and the PBA.

“It’s not my role to engage in a political debate,” Mr. Greenberg said. “But it’s my role to stand up for the rights of fine men and women in blue who protect this town.”

Mr. Greenberg argued that the chief’s formula does not take into account why an officer missed work, only the number of days missed. “It’s unfair and misguided,” he said. “There is no evaluation here, just attendance records.”

Chief Overton said his review was “blind” and that he based his analysis on 200 scheduled days of work for the year, including 28 days of vacation and four personal days.

“I was asked in 2006 to come up with a criteria to replace officers with 20 years of work,” Chief Overton said. “I just looked at the number of days missed over a five-year period.”

Richard Blowes, the town’s deputy supervisor, who attended the work session, said the chief’s approach was the correct one. “This way we keep the force turning over,” he said.

PBA President Patrick Aube, a 15-year veteran of the force, said he was “disheartened” by the chief’s methods. “Nothing else was taken into account except the number of days,” Officer Aube said. “He didn’t look at productivity while at work, or why someone was missing from work. Someone could show up every day and be less effective while another officer could be missing because he was injured on the job.”

Officer Aube and other members of the union argue that officers such as Lyle Smith, who was named “Officer of the Year” for 2008, are being punished for being injured. Officer Smith was injured in a motorcycle accident in June last year and suffered multiple broken bones and had to undergo numerous surgeries. Officer Smith was not on the list to be retained.

Ms. Kabot said that the example of Officer Smith is used by the PBA as a “lightning rod” to stir up emotion. Such officers, who are unable to return to work, Ms. Kabot said, can file for disability. If that disability is granted by the state, then those officers would received 75 percent of their salary tax-free retroactively from the date of their retirement. Ms. Kabot said she was willing to carry those officers until that disability was approved.

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If the Board is serious about cutting back staff costs, they should start in the Supervisor's office. Those of us who work here see that she has added part time staff and a brand new public relations assistant. These positions did not exist before and these people are doing the same work handled by less staff when Fred, Vince, and Skip were there. In our department, we stay until the evening and get there on time or we are docked pay. Her staff wanders in and out whenever they want to and some leave ...more
By Hampton (50), Westhampton on Sep 18, 08 10:54 AM
Did the Governor sign the bill that allows a group of officers to receive full pensions dispite the fact they entered service at a later age and at age 55 would not have enough years of service for a full pension?
This could be quid pro quo.
By the way, is Mr. Greenberg's first name Harry or Seth? He looks suspiciously like Harry Greenberg, a gentleman who once worked in the City of New York's Labor Relations office and since then has represented the Nassau PBA.
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Sep 22, 08 12:10 PM
"the high volume of felony narcotics crimes in Southampton" was the reason for hiring more detectives--20 years ago. it's time to reconsider the absurd notion that the town is a hotbed of drug dealing that justifies building a new court and hiring expensive police officers that require a "long tail" of pension liabilities for a small town on the east end of long island. if there are serious drug crimes, the local beat policeman can call in the state police or the federal agents (DEA) who have ...more
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Jan 6, 09 6:55 PM