New York State is studying whether it would be cost-effective to combine the State Police and the park police — a step the latter's union favors — though only preliminary discussions have been held so far, officials said Saturday.
"We always strive to find efficiencies in our operations and to make sure our resources are allocated properly," Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said by telephone. "This is something we are looking at to see if it works."
For years, the park police union has pinned its high attrition rates on its members' lower salaries and benefits though they undergo the same training as the troopers — and then are taught additional highly specialized skills, from water and rope rescues to handling events that might draw a few hundred thousand people.
Park Police Sgt. Manny Vilar, founder and vice president of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, estimated his members are paid about $30,000 a year less than the troopers.
Not only must they work 25 years before retiring — five years longer than the troopers — but younger park police officers qualify for only half pay for line-of-duty injuries, instead of the three-quarters pay that more senior officers receive, he said.
"This is a win all around; what the taxpayers get out of it is saving money" by consolidating administration and leadership and merging the two separate academies, Vilar said. And equalizing salaries and benefits would slice the five-year attrition rate that now tops 50 percent, he said, as so many park police officers leave for higher-paying jobs with localities — and even with the State Police, though that means returning to the academy.
A spokesman for the state troopers union was not immediately available.
The Cuomo administration has yet to open talks with the park police union, Vilar said.
The State Legislature has proposed or enacted bills that would either merge the two forces or close the gaps between the pay and benefits they receive, its website shows.
Though upstate's Niagara Falls State Park draws the most visitors almost every year, Long Island's Jones Beach State Park comes in second. And the Island's state parks draw more people — 25.6 million in 2018 — than any other region.
Folding the park police in with the State Police could give the parks more officers to draw upon, Vilar said. Currently, its force numbers about 260, well below the 380-plus recommendation made by the Civil Service, he said. The state has about 5,000 troopers.
A merger would restore some of the flexibility lost when the state parkways police were combined with the state troopers in 1980, Vilar said. He added: "As far as we can see, this is one of those rare instances when there is no downside."