The union representing police officers in the Town of Tonawanda went public Monday with its differences with the Town Board over manpower and contract issues.
With more than 60 of its 100 members in attendance at the Town Board’s meeting, the Town of Tonawanda Police Club maintained that personnel cuts have left the department short-staffed.
Noting that the tentative budget for 2014 calls for a tax decrease, Police Club President Chris Kaiser told the board it should bolster the department’s ranks.
“This would have been a perfect opportunity to restore the two police positions that had been cut from the budget in 2012,” he said.
Councilman Joe Emminger said the Police Department has had the unwavering support of the Town Board and pointed to numerous resolutions passed unanimously over the years as proof.
“We rely on the chief and his staff – his administration – to advise us on what to do,” Emminger said. “We’re not public safety experts by any stretch of the imagination.”
Police Chief Anthony J. Palombo was asked by the board to address Kaiser’s statements and confirmed the department has cut four positions since 2006 – an assistant chief, the lieutenant in charge of community services, a detective and a patrol officer’s position.
“However, I have done everything possible to maintain manpower on the road because, at the end of the day, regardless of what happens, our job is to be out there delivering services and protecting the public,” he said.
“Currently, manpower on the road is where it should be. It’s where it’s always been.”
The Police Club last week entered the political realm for the first time and endorsed the three Republican candidates for Town Board over the three Democratic incumbents.
Kaiser responded to statements made by Emminger in Sunday’s Buffalo News in which Emminger said the police union’s endorsement of the challengers was made over differences in contract negotiations and health insurance rather then public safety issues.
“To turn this into anything other than a safety issue is purely deflection,” Kaiser said.
But Emminger was adamant that Kaiser told him one of the reasons that Emminger, Lisa Chimera and John A. Bargnesi Jr. were not endorsed was differences over health insurance coverage for officers.
“I remember what he told me; I remember what was said and I stand by my word,” Emminger said.
Town police worked since the beginning of 2009 until the end of 2012 under a “signed memorandum,” according to the town’s director of labor relations, Eileen S. Fleming.
“There is an agreement,” she said. “We’re working through finalization. The proper place for that is not this forum.”
But on the issue of public safety, Palombo assured the board that staffing levels were adequate to properly police the town.
“I will stand here and tell you that, in my opinion, this community is safe,” Palombo said. “For anybody to imply that our citizens are not safe, or they’re not safer than they have been over the last several years is irresponsible. I stake my reputation on it.”