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JPD Staffing, Use Of Officers At Hospital Discussed By Council

Pictured is Lt. Sam Piazza of the Jamestown Police Department. P-J Photo by Katrina Fuller

Police staffing and the use of officers to restrain disorderly patients at the hospital were a hot topic at Monday’s meeting of the Jamestown City Council.

Lt. Sam Piazza addressed the council during a work session meeting regarding issues the Jamestown Police Department is facing with staffing levels. Piazza said in order for the department to be at a full staffing level, they would need 65 police officers. However, the department currently has 56 officers.

Piazza said four officers need to be hired to be compliant with the figures agreed upon between the city and the police union.

“We are short,” Piazza said. “The staffing levels include police officers, detectives, supervisors, two captains and the chief is actually included in the staffing criteria. Included in this number is one detached military member who is on military leave. He counts for our manpower even though he’s not here to assist. We have one SRO (school resource officer) that’s assigned to Jamestown High School who also does not assist for road patrol. These officers count for staff even though they’re not on the road. Additionally, we have two officers right now that are on light duty status either because of illness or injury.”

Piazza added that two spots in the detective branch of the department are unfilled. He said the shortage of staff across the police department has increased the workload for all involved and could result in slower response times to calls in the community and longer follow-up time on investigations by detectives going forward.

“Also, it decreases community engagements,” Piazza said. “The chief was a big proponent with the mayor’s plan about getting community engagement and getting officers on the streets, getting officers out of the car. Foot patrol was walking through the neighborhoods. With the staffing that we’re at, I can tell you as short as we are right now, it’s going to be just as bad in the summertime and we’re not going to be able to do as much as we did last year. We are short-staffed. How can we continue to do what we need to do?”

Piazza said the issues are retention and recruitment, which departments are facing all across the country.

He went on to say the city of Jamestown has the highest call volume, the highest mental health crisis calls, the highest number of arrests and the highest number of drug seizures and gun arrests in Chautauqua County. City Councilwoman Kim Eklund asked Piazza to provide these figures to the council, adding that it is not that she doesn’t believe his statements, but would like to see the figures herself.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but what I don’t like is Jamestown portrayed constantly in a negative fashion,” Eklund said. “We probably do have those most numbers, but we also have the most population of any city, town and village. I know we have issues — I’m not saying we don’t have issues — but I’m a numbers person. I want to see details.”

Afterward, Councilman Jeff Russell said he agreed that there is an issue with recruitment and the four positions need to be filled. He also addressed a recent incident at UPMC Chautauqua.

“You might not want to hear this either, lieutenant,” Russell said. “You recently had an injury at the hospital, correct? Were you the shift commander when that happened?”

Piazza responded that he was the shift commander during that time. Russell asked why Piazza was called down to the hospital, to which Piazza explained that he was called to assist the hospital due to a disorderly person assaulting individuals.

Russell said he was not “calling out” Piazza, but asked if while he was at the hospital, he was asked to subdue a subject so they could be “chemically medicated.”

“What I am saying is you had an officer who ended up with a serious physical injury who is now on light duty who is possibly a 207c situation. I know when I was working, there were many times we were called down there and we were asked to physically restrain patients so they could be (given) chemical restraint,” Russell said. “In other words, they were going to receive a shot. That went by the wayside for about five years. Chief Snellings said ‘We’re not doing that. That’s a liability to the officers and it’s a liability to the city.’ So my question is: Are we back to doing that again?”

Piazza replied that the department has “been doing that for a while.” He concurred that police officers when called to UPMC Chautauqua are asked to restrain individuals for medications in the presence of the hospital’s security team members.

“My concern is that we now have an officer that’s injured and is on light duty,” Russell said. “This isn’t necessarily calling out the police department and it’s also not calling out the men and women, the nurses and doctors and the (physician assistants) down here doing the work, especially dealing with COVID right now.

“But it’s more of an administrative thing from UPMC. I don’t agree with the practice of the police department being called down to the ER and asked to physically restrain a patient so a chemical restraint can take place. If that is taking place now, or it’s happening again, I encourage the chief and I encourage the command staff to meet with the hospital and refuse to do that.”

Piazza later explained that the police officers were not specifically called to the hospital to restrain patients. Russell said despite that, the situation needs to stop occurring.

“You have a whole mental health team down there,” he said. “Everyone is pushing for mobile crisis team and getting more mental health professionals involved in some of the police calls — and you’re actually at a facility?”

Council President Tony Dolce said the discussion should be continued on an administrative level.

“It sounds like an administrative policy that needs to be addressed,” Dolce said. “It’s kind of a slippery slope of confidentiality and contractual situations. The mayor and chief and Councilman Russell and any representatives from the department to try to go over that policy and make sure they understand what is expected and what is not expected.”

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