Governor Kathy Hochul in September in West Hempstead with state Parks...

Governor Kathy Hochul in September in West Hempstead with state Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid, who said in a statement Monday that if the governor's budget is approved, "we will take immediate efforts to build up and stabilize the Park Police." Credit: Howard Schnapp

New York state park police will stay separate from state troopers, officials said, dropping a former Cuomo administration merger plan that both law enforcement agencies had criticized.

The two forces will continue to report to the state police superintendent, now Kevin P. Bruen, as they have since the then-Cuomo administration announced the merger effort in 2019.

"There are no plans for park police officers to become troopers," the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said in a statement. "Under state police leadership, park police and state police have developed and will continue their crucial partnership."

A new training academy for park police will be held in the fall if Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget is enacted, said Erik Kulleseid, commissioner of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, in a statement.

Currently, there are only 196 park police officers, the parks department said.

That is down from the total of 236 officers and supervisors after the last academy’s recruits graduated in April 2019, Manny Vilar, president of the Police Benevolent Association of the State of New York, told the legislature last year.

Just over 77 million people visited a state park or historic site in 2020.

Provided the governor’s budget is approved, Kulleseid said, "we will take immediate efforts to build up and stabilize the Park Police force and improve the recruitment and retention of Park Police officers."

Vilar, by telephone, said: "We are welcoming the governor’s announcement and looking forward to addressing the long-standing issues that continued to plague the park police for decades."

Late Friday, the parks police tentatively agreed to a new contract with 8% raises spread out over four years that also will require them to wear body cameras, Vilar said.

That contract will be voted on by union members later on, with policies and procedures for body cameras still to be sorted out.

The starting salaries of the park police and the state troopers are quite close. For the former it is $55,179, while the latter are paid $58,443, according to state websites.

Over time, however, the park police's compensation falls far behind.

However, two of the park police’s key demands — raising their pay and pensions to match state troopers’ — a $35,000 to $45,000 gap, according to Vilar’s 2021 legislative testimony — will have to be addressed by the governor and the legislature, he said.

Hochul late last year vetoed a bill to let the park police, along with university police, forest rangers and environmental conservation officers, retire after 20 years — as state troopers can — instead of after 25 years.

A Hochul spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

Until the park police's compensation matches what troopers earn, they will continue to be recruited away by localities with more generous pay packages, Vilar said.

The park police have lost about 255 officers — a 53% attrition rate, since 2000, Vilar testified last year.

Spokesmen for the state troopers and their union were not immediately available for comment.

Both forces had objected to merging.

The state troopers said few park police would qualify to join them.

The park police countered, saying state troopers lacked their specialized skills, such as controlling large crowds on hot summer days and at events like the annual Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach Park. Park police also are taught how to rescue people from cliffs, dangerous waters, and the like.

Kulleseid said the park police force were gaining new vehicles — and requests for drones, utility terrain vehicles and other equipment would be advanced.

"In addition, over the course of the next year we will continue to work with State Police to develop and implement a longer term public safety strategy for our parks and sites."

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