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State park police fear merger with State Police will cost jobs

New York State Park Police vehicle in Hempstead

New York State Park Police vehicle in Hempstead Lake State Park in April 2019. Credit: Jim Staubitser

New York State Park Police fear many of them will lose their jobs in the merger with State Police, a union official said, and thus their highly specialized skills on everything from handling huge crowds to rescuing hikers stranded on cliffs will be lost.

“Parks are very large spaces and it takes a particular kind of knowledge about what a park is and what’s in it to properly police it,” Troy Caupain, secretary of the PBA of New York State and director of Park Police Officers, said by telephone.

“I would hate to think that that expertise will get lost by our merging these two [forces] incorrectly,” he said.

The problem, Caupain said, is that the state troopers, at least preliminarily, appear intent on requiring park police officers to undergo the same battery of tests — background, polygraphs, physical agility, vision and hearing, etc. — as new recruits. They also would have to return to the academy — and are willing to do so to learn State Police policies and procedures — though their own academy mirrors the state troopers' academy.

The park police union had called for a merger in hopes of matching the state troopers’ higher pay — which can run upwards of $30,000 a year more than their own — and more generous benefits, including the ability to retire after 20 years instead of 25, Caupain said. 

“The process we feel is disrespectful, and if it’s not a full merger, we are pushing back to find out exactly what is the plan,” Caupain said. The fear, he explained, is, “They are going to cherry-pick us and basically, we are going to be left with an unknown future.”

Some of the uncertainty unsettling the park police was amplified when Keith M. Corlett, superintendent, division of State Police, told state lawmakers at a Feb. 12 budget hearing that questions about seniority, whether pay would be equalized, and whether any layoffs would result had yet to be worked out. In announcing the merger in December, the Cuomo administration kicked off a six-month analysis. 

New York has about one park police officer for each of its 250 parks, historic sites and recreational facilities. There are about 5,100 troopers.

Beau Duffy, a spokesman for the State Police, offered reassurances — including promising park police would not be cut or reassigned to faraway jurisdictions. “The priority is to maximize resources as we provide for the safety and security of the nearly 80 million people who visit state parks each year,” he said in a statement.

“As we have said from the start, we will create a pathway for park officers to become state troopers, and some requirements, such as age restrictions, will be relaxed,” Duffy said.

He continued: “However, nobody will lose their jobs or be forced to relocate. Any objections are premature, since the details of the transition are still being worked on. State Police is in discussions with park police and union officials, and that will continue until the process is finalized.”

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