UTICA, N.Y. - Utica Police Chief Mark Williams and Sgt. Mike Curley spoke at a Downtown Community Forum Tuesday night to discuss difficulties the department is having with police recruitment, hiring, and retention due to the residency requirement.
In 2008, a referendum was passed that requires anyone hired in the department after 2009 to live in the city of Utica and stay there throughout their entire career. Anyone hired before 2009 was grandfathered in.
Chief Williams says in the past five years the department has lost more officers as a result of resignations as opposed to retirements, which is unusual. He says the number one reason is the residency requirement.
“When it comes to police recruitment, hiring and retention, it's severely impacting our ability to stay fully staffed and then it becomes a public safety issue,” Chief Williams said.
Chief Williams says the Utica Fire Department and neighboring police departments don’t have this requirement. He says he understands that some residents believe the people that serve their community should live there, but it should be their choice.
“What is comes down to, all things being equal, we’re always going to show preference to the Utica city resident that’s applying for the job,” Chief Williams said. “However, overall what I’m looking for is the most qualified candidate regardless of where they’re coming from and I think if someone is a victim of a crime or is in a crisis and needed the help of a police officer, I don’t think they’re going to care where that officer comes from or where he lives.”
The department is looking for an amendment on the 2008 referendum regarding the residency issue. The department is hoping for a vote by the Utica Common Council to change the charter revision and modify it.
“Maybe instead of having officers have to live in Utica their entire career at the police department, at least require them to live there the first five years with the police department,” Chief Williams said. “I think that’s fair, especially for someone that lives out of the area that comes in and takes employment with us because they should get to know a little bit about the community before they have the opportunity to move out.”
Chief Williams says in the past two academy classes they had in the past two years, the department hired short of what they needed because they have a high standard for the officers they allow to serve and protect the city of Utica.
“There wasn’t enough fully qualified candidates and I just wasn’t going to hire someone just for the sake of hiring them,” Chief Williams said. “These are very difficult jobs to do, you have to have a multitude of skills, communication skills, thinking quick on your feet, being able to multitask and more importantly being technology savvy to do the job and we’re looking for the best.”
Chief Williams says he plans on attending more neighborhood association meetings and community forums to discuss the residency issue with residents and gain support from the public.