Staffing issues took center stage at a work session for Geneva City Council- as a presentation by GPD Chief Michael Passalacqua led to a contentious exchange between council members. Less than an hour into the meeting, it was ended, as Mayor Steve Valentino appeared to lose control of the room.
Passalacqua informed the Council that he did not believe that the GPD could continue to adequately protect the City if current staffing levels were to continue. He stated that he has never seen staffing levels like this in his 18 years. He told Council that GPD has lost three officers within the last six weeks. Passalacqua also told council that all three officers left the GPD in part because of the climate Council had brought into the city and the GPD workplace. He even said that one officer’s resignation letter said that he did not want to be the “next on the chopping block.” He added that GPD would continue to lose qualified and dedicated officers if conditions did not change. Passalacqua pointed out that two of the three officers who resigned were Hispanic, and that one was hired off of the bilingual list.
The Chief also stated that officers do not trust that they will be fairly critiqued by Council if they are involved in a critical incident.
He added that GPD is currently down six officers expressing grave concerns for community and officer safety, and officer morale because of the staffing shortage. Passalacqua indicated that current staffing levels mean that there are only two days a week where an afternoon shift officer could take an extra day off. He also said that night shift officers could not currently take extra days off.
But Passalacqua’s biggest concern was the impact the staffing levels would have on services.
He said that currently on many shifts when one patrol unit is tied up on a call, there is only one remaining unit available to protect the City. Although the Chief did not state it directly, the implication was that it was possible for the GPD not to have officers available to respond to calls if a situation arose where multiple incidents occur at the same time. Passalacqua did note that he was concerned about the length of time a unit might have to serve as the sole patrol resource because the other unit was involved with a lengthy call, such as an arrest that can take an hour or more. He also clarified for Council that the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department is not available to regularly assist the GPD in routine patrol activities.
Passalacqua expressed concern regarding how bad the situation could get as the GPD has roughly seven officers eligible for retirement over the next several years. He stated that potential retirements in the command ranks could be a particular issue for the Department because six of the nine command officers would become eligible for retirement in the next several years.
He also told Council that he cannot fill these vacancies quickly because it takes 10-12 months to hire a police officer. Passalacqua also said that he would not be able to promote officers to fulfill command vacancies if he cannot fill vacant patrol officer positions because further patrol vacancies would create unsafe situations for both the community and officers.
Passalacqua explained that GPD had spent $92,133 on overtime in the current budget year. 431 hours of that overtime was due to shift shortages. He warned Council that the shift shortages and overtime usage would increase the end of the year contractual payouts to officers because officers cannot use the leave time they are entitled to take.
The Chief also indicated that the staffing shortages had made it virtually impossible for officers to make connections with community members. He specifically pointed out that the GPD had virtually eliminated having officers on foot beat patrols In addition, Passalacqua said that the GPD was unable to grant most requests to participate in special events.
Near the end of the meeting Councilor Laura Salamendra (Ward 5) spoke in opposition to increasing police staffing. Salamendra stated that Council had set a new policy that the City wanted to spend more money on people and less on police. She said that those supporting police have argued that policing is what makes cities safe. Salamendra countered by saying that investing in people is what makes cities safe.
Salamendra also contended that the GPD, not Council, hung the probationary officers out to dry. Salamendra also said that if a Police Review Board (PRB) made officers want to leave then “I say good-bye because this Department is going to be held to the local law so that the community can hear about what is going on in the Department.”
Salamendra also said that she felt it was disrespectful for City employees to come to the legislative body and make all of these accusations. She then expressed hope after Council finished with questions that the two GPD representatives would leave so that Council could continue the discussion.
At that point, the public attendees erupted and began verbally attacking Salamendra. She responded and attempted to continue her presentation, but was repeatedly cut off by the crowd. Council William Pealer (Ward 2) got up and left the Council table walking out of camera view.
Although not everything could be understood because of the audio feed quality and the number of people shouting, the public attendees at one point appeared to tell Salamendra to leave.
Mayor Steve Valentino initially tried to calm things by calling for a five-minute recess. But the meeting was so out of control that Valentino almost immediately ended the meeting instead. It did not appear that anyone attempted to intervene on Salamendra’s behalf to calm the crowd down. At the end of the session, public attendees were trying to put up a banner, but the YouTube video feed was ended before the wording on the banner could be identified.
Watch the moment unfold below: