GENEVA — In the midst of heated debate over city Police Department staffing this past summer, Ward 6 Councilor John Pruett said the best way to address the issue was to have fresh eyes examine it.
Pruett, who is leaving Council at the end of the year, called for the city to hire a firm to address the issue.
“We have to do something besides talk about it,” Pruett said at a July council meeting. “A fresh look … would be useful.”
He suggested Council hire the International City Managers Association Center for Public Safety to examine workload, staffing and organizational structure, while also addressing management, efficiency and performance.
But when told the price — $44,000, which was later revised to $35,000 — council members who already were skeptical of a study had one more reason to reject the idea. The proposal didn’t get Council approval.
However, Pruett was pleasantly surprised to learn last week that a study on police staffing and functions is underway, and it won’t cost city taxpayers a dime — at least not yet.
In a presentation to City Council on Dec. 1 about actions of the newly formed Police Budget Advisory Board, Assistant City Manager Adam Blowers and Police Chief Mike Passalacqua revealed that the state Division of Criminal Justice Services had begun a study of Geneva police operations on Nov. 10.
The study was city management’s response to a recommendation by the Police Budget Advisory Board that funds be allocated for an assessment of department staffing and operations.
Blowers said management decided to ask the state do the pro bono study, and that if it does not cover the issues satisfactorily, the city could pay for a consultant.
“It will look at facts,” Passalacqua said. “No persuasion.”
He said the state agency did a similar assessment for the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office in 2018.
Passalacqua expects to get results back in the spring.
The advisory board also recommended, among a number of proposals, that no currently vacant positions be filled in 2022 until the study is complete. However, if an officer leaves the department, the position will be filled, Passalacqua said.
At-large Councilor Frank Gaglianese III said he supports the state study.
“I feel this is the best route, since we’re trying to be fiscally responsible,” he said.
However, Ward 5 Councilor Laura Salamendra, a vocal critic of city police operations, questioned whether the state agency is capable of conducting an independent appraisal of police staffing and operations.
If it’s not sufficient, Pruett said, the city could consider hiring a firm to dive deeper.
He said his hope is that the state study “will stop some of the rancor between two political initiatives.”
Blowers said the Police Budget Advisory Board has been productive, despite its formation just months ago, and he expects bigger things in 2022.
“I think it’s a very interested board, and they ask a lot of questions,” Blowers said.