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Syracuse Council agrees to pay salary increases, benefits awarded to police in union contract decision

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh at Police Headquarters.
Tom Magnarelli
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh at Police Headquarters.

The Syracuse Common Council has agreed to pay the salary increases, benefits and bonuses that were awarded to the city’s police department, after negotiations over the union contract went to arbitration. Mayor Ben Walsh said it will improve public safety. But some on the Council believe it’s not sustainable.

The city will pay $8.5 million in retroactive pay to the police department, the vast majority of which are for cost-of-living adjustments. The new contract also adds $4.5 million to this year’s budget. Walsh said one of the highlights of the contract is a five-year residency requirement for new officers to live in the city.

“I believe that that will significantly improve police-community relations and overall, create a more cohesive community where more of us will have the benefit of having a Syracuse police officer living in our neighborhood,” Walsh said.

The contract, he added, will also help retain more officers, which is a problem right now. There are pay increases based on longevity and rank. There are bonuses for officers that speak a second language, have higher education and military experience.

The contract went to arbitration because it never had the full support of the Council. The Council did unanimously approve the final decision, although Councilor-at-Large Khalid Bey, who is running against Walsh for mayor this year, said he doesn’t think the Walsh administration did a good job negotiating the contract.

“I think this particular effort initiated did not take into consideration the fact that this may not be sustainable long term,” Bey said.

Bey said in years to come, the city might not be able to afford police officers at this rate, and could be forced to downsize or consolidate.

Mayor Walsh said the contract is worth every penny and officers deserve to be compensated fairly.

“Our officers do incredibly difficult and dangerous work,” he said. “And if that wasn’t enough, we hold them, my office and the chief’s office, to a very high standard and we’re going to continue to do so.”

The contract is for the years 2018-19, so a new contract is already needed. It’s taken a couple of years just to get to this point, so Walsh said it will probably be a little while before a new contract is negotiated.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.