NY: ECO shortage around 40; academy class requested

Albany – DEC has a serious shortage of environmental
conservation officers that could grow if a long-awaited contract is
approved and many ECOs choose to retire at that point.

Peter Fanelli, DEC’s director of law enforcement, said the division
is currently down 38 officers, a number that includes ECOs,
lieutenants, investigators, investigative lieutenants, captains,
majors and one colonel.

“I’ve been saying it was 40,” Fanelli said, noting that one officer
is on disability awaiting retirement and another ECO has been on
active Coast Guard duty for the past six years.

“The biggest challenge is the lack of supervisors,” Fanelli said.
“That creates overtime for the other supervisors who have to fill
in.”

The ECO shortage – there are currently around 290 statewide – will
almost assuredly grow, Fanelli added, when and if ECOs, forest
rangers, SUNY and state park police lock up a contract. Those
officers have been working without a contract since 2005 and
earlier this year overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that would
have covered 2005-13. The contract offer would have included
retroactive salary hikes but also a wage freeze for 2011-13 and
several concessions, most of which related to health care
coverage.

Since then, the officers have dumped Council 82 as their union
representative and are now being represented by a newly formed
Police Benevolent Association of New York.

Many officers have reportedly been awaiting a contract settlement
before retiring. They’ll walk away with a sizeable chunk of money
in retroactive pay hikes, and any officer hired before 1986 can
receive half pay annually upon retirement.

A key element in restoring ECO staff levels would be another
officer training academy. That’s been on hold in light of the
state’s financial woes; the last academy was held in 2008 and
included 23 graduates, all of whom are still working for DEC,
Fanelli said.

“We’re asking,” Fanelli said of requests for another training
academy to bring more officers on board. “If we have an academy, in
a perfect world it would be for 38 (new officers). But I’d be
surprised if that were the case, given the state’s resources right
now.”

DEC two years ago purchased the former Portly Angler property along
the Salmon River for $1.25 million and has been renovating the
business’s lodge and motel into classrooms and dorm rooms for the
training academy. Fanelli said some renovations are completed but
others are ongoing.

“It’s nearly academy-ready,” he said.

DEC spokesperson Lori Severino earlier this year indicated there
were no plans for a training academy in 2011, and the department
was “unable to say if there will be one or not anytime in the
future.

“That said, the department is continually discussing and evaluating
the need for preparation for a possible academy in the future, but
currently the resources are not available to solidify any plans,”
Severino said in May.

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