Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Monday signed papers to hire a new class of 100 police recruits who will start training Sept. 14, the largest single class since 2006.
Deputy County Executive John Schneider said the new class will be timed so new recruits will complete the academy by April. They will finish field training by next summer. That will augment the force and help bring down overtime, at a time of year when overtime costs are at their highest, officials said.
"After deliberating with top police officials, I determined that 100 new officers are needed to ensure that Suffolk County continues to have one of the lowest crime rates . . . while also protecting taxpayer dollars," Bellone said.
The new class is larger than the class of 65 that was originally included in the 2015 budget, and more than offsets the 78 officers who have retired this year or have given notice that they plan to retire soon. Police officials estimate that when those officers depart, the department will have a sworn staff of 2,349.
"This class will be a great asset to the police department and have an impact on our overtime costs," said Deputy Insp. Kevin Fallon, department spokesman. However, police officials Monday could not specify how much the new class might affect overtime costs, expected to total $35 million this year.
Officials predicted savings because of the current police contract, which runs through 2018. The contract created a dual pay system -- with lower pay for new officers, at $42,000 a year -- and lengthens to 12 years the time it takes to reach the top step of $111,700.
A top step police officer currently makes $1,229.73 in a single eight-hour shift on overtime, administration officials said. A new officer just out of the academy for the same shift would make $450. New officers also pay a 15 percent share of health insurance.
"It's great that he's hiring more cops. I'd like to see him hiring 200," said GOP Legis. Rob Trotta of Fort Salonga, a retired county police detective. "This was the money saving part of the contract so I wish they were hiring more already."
Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, praised Bellone's decision to put in a larger class than budgeted and start the class in September rather than November or December as the county has in recent years.
"We're happy to see the class pushed forward," he said. "It's beneficial to the department and to the public to have more officers on the street sooner" so they will be available for the summer months next year.
DiGerolamo said he believes the county should hire at least another 100 officers next year, when 150 to 200 officers may retire. He said a union retirement seminar earlier this year attracted about three times the normal attendance.
DiGerolamo attributed the potential retirement spike to the fact that a large number of officers are already eligible for retirement after 20 years on the job.
DiGerolamo said that although the Bellone administration has been supportive of police, "we're looking at an era where public employees have been vilified and made to feel like public enemies and that takes a significant toll on the individual."