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Dissent in the ranks
August 28, 2008 - Joe Gorman
There was no denying the frustration and tension on the faces on members of the Youngstown Police Department's Ranking Officers' union at Tuesday's Safety Committee meeting of City Council on the restructing plan for the police department by Mayor Jay Williams.
Under the plan, which was approved by council last week, Williams will replace 25 detective sergeants as they retire with patrolmen, which would diminish the ranks of the union. Williams' thinking is that the department is too top heavy and more officers are needed on the street level to combat crime.
Capt. Kenneth Centorame, who heads up the union, says that the number of supervisors is necessary because those are the personnel who handle investigations in the department. He pointed to the fact that 15 of the city's 21 homicides this year have been solved and crime statistics show that crime declined the first six months of 2008 as compared to 2007.
One surprising thing is that council approved this proposal last week in emergency. Normally, council will take a controversial piece of legislation and place it in first reading and then hold hearings on it, but that was not the case this time. Several ranking officers I know were also surprised that the measure passed in emergency; they were counting on it being placed in first reading so they could argue their case before council.
In fact, that made the point of Tuesday's hearing moot. Why hold a hearing on something you've already passed? It was clear that there was no way they would change their mind, no matter what Centorame and other union officials said. I suspect that council members wanted to appear that they gave the affected officers their say, but if you do that, then a committee meeting should have been held before the ordinance was passed.
Additionally, Centorame and his colleagues were not given much of a chance to speak, although I do not think this was intentional. Whenever he made a point, he was interupted by another council member. The committee chairwoman should have allowed him and his colleagues to make their case known without interuption first, then allow other council members to pepper him with questions.
You could see the frustration on the face of Centorame and other union memebrs. President of Council Charles Sammarone at first tried to calm things down, saying that even though he agrees with the mayor's plan, it is the job of Centorame to fight as head of the union to save jobs, whether it is in the present or the future. In fact, Sammarone said he would ``lose respect' for Centorame if he did not fight against the proposal.
Yet minutes later, Sammarone upbraided Centorame for speaking without permission, as both of them were disagreeing about morale in the police department.
Centorame said morale is low, which Sammarone disputed, but members of the patrolmen's union told the committee that Centorame was right because those members now see their path to promotion stalled thanks to the plan.
Despite the decrease in crime shown by statistics, this has not been an easy year to be a cop in Youngstown. A well liked officer is killed in an off duty accident and is later to be found driving drunk, four officers were taken to task for failing to finish out their shift or perform their assigned duties and a confession in what has now become a highly publicized murder case was thrown out because a judge agreed with defense attorneys that detectives did not read the suspect his rights. The case is now being appealed.
But still, good morale or bad, they keep showing up for work every day, and their department is not plauged with the problems other departments have. That shows their professionalism. That shows they know how to handle dissent.
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