Talk about paranoid.
Only John Clarkson could view lawn signs with a positive message about the Bethlehem Police as a threatening political statement.
Here’s what the “We support Bethlehem Police” signs are about – our efforts to inform residents of the positive work the police do in the community, to help fundraise so we can continue to support additional community charities, and, ultimately, bring to light the mistreatment, micromanagement, and bullying faced by the police at the hands of John Clarkson.
As we’ve gotten this effort off the ground, the support we’re getting has been overwhelming! Everywhere we go, people ask us if they can get a “We Support Bethlehem Police” sign. Former elected officials, current and former town employees, community leaders, and business owners are cheering us on. It has been so rewarding to engage our neighbors regarding our law enforcement services and get everyone’s feedback on how we can do the best job we can do for our town.
We continue to be disappointed in Clarkson’s bizarre behavior towards us. It’s hard to believe that Clarkson recently dispatched town employees to persuade business owners into removing signs supporting the Bethlehem Police. In fact, you have likely noticed that the town building inspector also forced Berkshire Hathaway to take down a large sign of support for the police. One homeowner was approached by the town to remove a banner from his lawn. The banner reads “Clarkson: Take care of those who take care of us.”
Everyone wants to live, work and raise a family in a community free from bullying. This kind of intimidation should not come from our elected officials.
The signs are a simple declaration of support. A memento of a conversation between an officer and a business owner or neighbor about public safety services. A reminder that Bethlehem residents have our backs. Clearly, Clarkson has decided these are signs he doesn’t want you to have.
We do agree with Jeffrey Kuhn’s sentiment from last week’s column, “it is important for the public to understand the issues.” However, Clarkson and his propaganda machine time-and-again fail to tell the full story and instead employ factoids to deliberately mislead our residents in favor of preserving his own bureaucracy.
As law enforcement professionals and not professional politicians, we are more comfortable dealing with facts than spin. So here are some facts. While Kuhn’s column cites some points from various bought-and-paid-for consultant studies, he ignored the unbiased opinion of NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), which recommended a staffing level of 46 officers.
Since that report was issued, the Town has grown in population and business development while the police force has shrunk by sixteen percent, from 44 to 37 officers. Clarkson has reduced the police force of a thriving community through the use of overtime and arbitrary time-off rules – continuously propagandizing overtime and sick leave to taxpayers.
Additionally, Clarkson continually fails to mention approximately 25 percent of overtime costs are directly linked to insufficient staffing and intentional delays in replacing officers we have lost through attrition.
But wait, there’s more.
Almost 40 percent of total overtime is directly attributed to investigations, arrests and court time which are unavoidable expenses. Fees, fines and revenues generated from the police department more than cover annual police overtime. Clarkson also refuses to share 25 percent of total overtime is reimbursed by outside sources, creating no additional burden on property taxes.
In 2014, the average officer used eight sick days, excluding a few officers that were out on long term illness/injury sustained on and off duty. That’s less than half the number that Clarkson likes to throw around. And there is no such thing as unlimited sick leave!
At the same time, we fully understand the fiscal position of the town. We respect the need to do more with less. Bethlehem residents should know that we’ve done everything we can to provide meaningful input to make the town smarter and more efficient.
We’ve suggested a series of reforms, including hiring additional officers, revenue recovery for non-mandatory services and a change in scheduling.
All of this begs the question – if Clarkson and his allies take their mission of balancing the need for services with the tax burden, you would think he would take us up on some of these ideas and reduce potentially nonessential services.
We are glad that Clarkson and his cronies are jumping on our bandwagon of support, expressing concern for overworked officers and their families, however, it’s time to actually do something about it.
To request a sign, reach out via Twitter @OurBethlehemPBA or send a message to us on Facebook at Bethlehem Police Officers’ Union.
Officer Michael Berben is president of the Bethlehem Police Benevolent Association. Sgt. Stephen Kraz is President of the Bethlehem Police Supervisor’s Union.