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New Contract With Syracuse Police Department Includes Retention Incentives, Residency Requirement

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WAER file photo
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WAER file photo

An arbitrator has settled a long-debated contract with Syracuse Police that includes a five-year residency requirement for new officers and incentives to keep experienced officers on the force. Those were among Mayor Ben Walsh’s original priorities nearly two years ago when the contract was first proposed.

"Arguably, city residency for new officers being the top priority. We have that now, and that's a win. It's a win for the community as we try to enhance police-community relations. It also helps us address arguably the most pressing concern for the department right now, which is attrition."

The numbers bear that out. Walsh says the ranks are down to about 360 officers, the lowest in recent history, from a high of 420 earlier in his term. He acknowledges it’s a difficult time to be in law enforcement, and that he’s holding the department to a higher standard in terms of reform and accountability. So Walsh is hoping $10,000 raises to officers with more than 20 years experience will help stop the bleeding, as well as pay hikes ranging from $12,000 to $18,000 for those who attain the ranks of captain, lieutenant, and sergeant. But Walsh says they also want more educated officers who reflect the diversity of the community.

"The other incentives include furthering their education. It incentivizes officers that can speak a second language. There are some really valuable components in here that we think are more than worth the cost of the contract."

…which is expected to be $8.5 million. That’s about half of the original contract proposed in 2019, which was rejected by common councilors. Walsh says 85% of the cost can be attributed to retroactive cost of living increases, something he says would be included in any contract. Some of the savings come from arbitrators moving up the effective dates for longevity incentives and rank differential bonuses. The agreement is also shorter; it only covers 2018 and 2019, not through 2022 as Walsh had hoped.

"That is one of the unfortunate outcomes of the arbitration process is that we still immediately will be out of contract. So, yes, we will need to go right back to the negotiating table, but we're doing so with a much different framework. Now we can look beyond that at some of the other things the community has expressed in seeing within a contact.

He says it sets the stage to start talks again when everyone’s ready.