The delay in hiring a new Suffolk County police class, now expected to convene Monday, will cost $1.5 million in unbudgeted overtime because recruits will not be ready to go on patrol until after the height of next summer's peak overtime period, according to the legislative budget office.
Robert Lipp, director of the Office of Budget Review, disclosed the added costs when lawmakers questioned him last week about the new class, which was supposed to start in September and include 75 recruits but now has only 40.
New officers will study for six months in the police academy and do three months of field training before taking on patrol duties.
Lipp said the delay means that new officers will not be available for patrol until August, increasing overtime costs because of vacations and higher crime levels in summer.
Deputy County Executive Fred Pollert said analysts' numbers are overblown because there will be savings from moving 35 park police into the police department by April.
Legislative analysts warned that County Executive Steve Bellone's plan to move the park police, an effort meant to make up for the smaller recruit class, could run afoul of state Civil Service Law because the county has an existing competitive police hiring list that is in effect until 2015.
Several county lawmakers criticized the delay in the new class and the reduced number of recruits, saying the Suffolk Legislature last year approved a police district property tax increase to pay for new officers.
"I personally feel we're being cheated," said Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), public safety committee chairwoman.
But Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the smaller police class is the result of the county's ongoing fiscal problems. "We're in a deficit and all bets are off," he said.
Bellone has said he will seek special state legislation in Albany to allow the county police to take in park police officers.
Alan Schneider, head of the county civil service department, opposes the move.
"I don't see any legal way for someone to become a Suffolk County police officer without being appointed from the civil service list," Schneider said.
Suffolk has a long-standing consent agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to increase minority hiring. It requires the county to use a test approved by federal officials for any hiring.
Schneider said only two park police officers have scored the 97.5 percent or above necessary to be among the 235 on the civil service list to be considered for hiring. He said there are no park officers among the 1,400 who have scored between 95 and 97.5 percent, the next group likely to be reached on the list by 2015.
A Bellone spokesman said park police had to pass a civil service test to get their existing jobs, and that they receive the same academy training as county police officers. Jon Schneider said the administration anticipates federal approval, because the move involves transfers, not new hiring, and there are three officers of color among the park police.
County Attorney Dennis Brown would not comment about the legal issues or if the county has consulted with federal officials.
"The only thing I can say in connection with those issues is that we are researching and reviewing them," he said.