Chris’s Corner: Support Police Not the Union Racket; Prioritizing Taxpayers and Public Safety

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By: Chris Voccio

Niagara Falls City Council Chairman

Since my campaign for City Council in 2017 and throughout my almost three years as an elected official, I’ve always been a strong supporter of law enforcement and the rule of law, but opposed to the racket that has fleeced taxpayers in Niagara Falls for years.

A strong police force is necessary to a civil society and the men and women who make up that force need to be supported, and well compensated.

But we need to make an important distinction between supporting these men and women who keep us safe and giving their union bosses and brass leadership a license to squeeze taxpayers.

In Niagara Falls, the front line police officers who do the tough job of keeping the streets safe face leadership and morale issues, and they don’t benefit from the racket like some of the senior ranks and brass do. 

When I refer to the racket, there are a lot of elements involved. Work rules that force up overtime. Using a call-in provision in union contracts that pads certain paychecks, and helps inflate certain pensions. And there are other aspects of the racket that also bleed taxpayers and the city.

Anyone with knowledge of our police force will tell you that these issues exist. The problem is fixing them, because the people who benefit most from the racket are politically powerful. And they are very clever at taking advantage of our instinct to support the police and using that to get what they want.

My last column made a suggestion that would accomplish at least three things: First, it would bring a change of leadership to our police. Second, it would change some of the work rules and other things that are part of the racket. Third, it would eliminate some of the duplicated services that exist between the city and the county.

That column was an expression of frustration with the racket and offered one way to fix it.

Don’t let those who benefit from this racket mislead you. Don’t let them mislead you into thinking someone who opposes the racket therefore opposes the cops on the beat, the men and women who keep us safe. That is just not the case.

So let’s fully support the men and women on the front lines of the war against civil society. Let’s back the blue —100%. And let’s compensate them well for their service. 

But let’s not let their union bosses take advantage of our support.

I have pointed out the extremely high cost of public safety in Niagara Falls and how we can’t rebuild our city until we figure out a way to keep our streets safe at a more reasonable cost.

The movements we see in some misguided cities to defund the police and micromanage them to the point they can’t perform their jobs are reckless. Please don’t confuse those bizarre efforts with what you read here. (Read my June 7th column “Before We Castrate the Police”, found at https://m.facebook.com/notes to understand my strong support for law enforcement.)

What I suggest here for the City of Niagara Falls is unrelated to the anti-police lunacy. The Leftist moves to destroy an ordered society are insane. What follows is an effort to bring about a convergence of fiscal responsibility with strong public safety by removing a very expensive layer of government.

Over the years, Niagara Falls public safety departments — both police and fire — have become astronomically expensive because prior Mayors and Councils have allowed those departments to drive up expenses by avoiding good management principles.

The city’s police department costs taxpayers almost $25 million annually. That’s salaries, pensions, health insurance, everything. Because very powerful political forces pushed previous Mayors and Councils to make bad decisions, our cost of public safety is higher than a city like Niagara Falls can afford.

But we can keep Niagara Falls safe for a lot less than it currently costs, with a strong support for law enforcement. In the past, politicians prioritized the politically powerful over taxpayers.

It’s time to end that. It’s time to put taxpayers first.

The Niagara County Sheriff’s department is a strong force with well respected leadership, past and present. We should seriously consider having the Sheriff’s department manage law enforcement in the city. This will preserve public safety and protect taxpayers at the same time.

The Sheriff’s department, which already has a limited presence in Niagara Falls, could beef up its forces to keep us safe, unfettered by some of the restrictions that prevent sound management practices in our police department.

If the Sheriff’s department had a station in Niagara Falls, and if they hired a massive crew of new deputies, would could see even more law enforcement officers on the streets of Niagara Falls, at lower expense.

While the first-year expenses related to this move may make initial savings seem modest, going forward we would be able to take the multi-million dollar savings and begin to rebuild the city. We’ll be able to really attack blight. We’ll be able to fix our sidewalks and fix our streets. We’ll begin to chip away at our budget deficit and build a fund balance. And maybe we’ll be able to provide some tax relief.

For those of you understandably concerned about safety, consider this: We spend $25 million per year on police and we have a reputation for being a crime infested city. Let’s let the Sheriff’s department show us how to preserve order at a reasonable expense.

Fixing this problem, the incredibly high cost of public safety, will put the city on a new course of fiscal responsibility and a brighter future.


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