White Plains Public Safety Commissioner David Chong told the Common Council last week his proposal to add five new officers and three firefighters in the 2020-21 budget was more than justified.
Chong, who oversees the largest department in the city with a budget of approximately $65 million, explained about 120 employees under his watch were eligible to retire on January 1.
“We do need these personnel,” Chong stressed to councilmembers on May 13. “Certainly, we don’t like to lose senior people. We’re in a different world now. It’s cheaper for the city to hire new people.”
White Plains has 193 police officers and about 150 firefighters. Chong said the police force has been short-staffed since he took over 10 years ago when the department was in “dire straits” after suffering layoffs.
“We’re pretty close now,” Chong said of the department’s required manpower. “We need those people. These are five very important officers that must be filled.”
Of the five officers being sought, Chong explained one would be utilized for bicycle patrol, while another would serve as a backup school resource officer.
“When this city is back to normal it thrives at lunch time and early dinner time. I think people would appreciate seeing a police officer while they dine outside at lunch time and after work,” Chong said. “Nothing replaces boots on the ground. You have to have people serving people.”
Chong also made a case for a $1.7 million radio and infrastructure replacement project included in his proposed spending plan.
“We have been putting off that project for years. It’s gotten to the point of no return with the radios,” Chong said. “We can’t put that off any further. It is the lifeline of men and women in public safety.”
While Councilman Justin Brasch expressed concerns the city will be experiencing some short-term budgetary problems in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Tom Roach insisted city officials “will proceed with caution.”
“It (pandemic) highlights the importance of local government,” Roach said. “A robot can’t put out a fire. A robot can’t break up a burglary. We are the ones that have to answer for the budget every year and the services we provide.”