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Apr 28, 2010 12:40 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sick days strain Westhampton Beach Police Department

Apr 28, 2010 12:40 PM

Sickness and injuries have spread the Westhampton Beach Police Department thin recently.

As many as four of the department’s 16 full-time officers, or 25 percent, have taken a substantial amount of time off for medical reasons in the last six weeks or so, prompting Police Chief Ray Dean to rely more heavily on part-time officers and to make do with fewer cops staffing each regular shift.

The department usually schedules two police officers and one sergeant to each of its three daily shifts. But with one to two police officers, one detective and one sergeant out sick in recent weeks—absences that mean the department has four fewer men in patrol cars, according to the chief—the police department has been getting by with one officer and one sergeant on each shift. The shortages are straining the already small department, which covers almost 3 square miles.

“The smaller you are, the more impact there is,” Chief Dean said. “There’s only so many bodies.”

Chief Dean has been scheduling some of the department’s 13 part-time officers to cover more patrols—though he said this week he doesn’t expect that doing so will cost the village much more—and in February ordered the department’s two detectives to augment the police patrols.

All of the officers in question have filed or are expected to file documentation of their medical ailments with the village, according to Mayor Conrad Teller. It is unknown if the officers are taking sick days, are claiming work-related injuries or both.

If officers claim a work-related injury, the time off does not get deducted from their accumulated sick time.

Two of the officers who have taken sick time recently had already been taken off the streets for other reasons. Officers Michael Bruetsch and Joseph Pesapane were assigned to desk duty in December following a Suffolk County Internal Affairs Bureau investigation that concluded both men lied about a fellow officer’s missing handgun. Their reassignment, on Mayor Teller’s order, necessitated Chief Dean’s decision to use the detectives to shore up patrol numbers, he said.

Officer Bruetsch has been out of work recovering from back surgery since early February, according to his lawyer, Joseph Ferrante, and Officer Pesapane has been out sick sporadically, calling in sick 14 of the 32 days he was scheduled to work between March 1 and April 27.

The Press obtained a copy of the police department schedule and attendance records through a Freedom of Information Law request earlier this month.

Detective Steve Cunneen worked two of the 38 days he was scheduled to be on duty between March 1 and April 27, taking 31 sick days and five vacation days, according to village records. Mayor Teller said Detective Cunneen suffered a work-related injury a while ago.

“My health is my business,” Detective Cunneen said this week. “Any condition I have is personal information.”

Sergeant Nicholas Fusco is the fourth officer who has taken sick time recently. He called in sick 16 of the 17 days he was scheduled to work between April 1 and April 21. He worked all of the 21 days he was scheduled to in March.

Sergeant Fusco could not be reached for comment, but Westhampton Beach Police Benevolent Association President Jeff Speer said that he has been out and recovering from surgery and should be back on the job later this week.

Chief Dean said he could not comment specifically on the absences of his employees because they are personnel matters.

According to the village’s more recent contract with the police union, which expired almost a year ago, police officers can take sick time if they are sick or disabled. “Under no circumstances is sick leave to be construed as additional vacation due to an employee, or as an excuse for a leave of absence with pay for any other reason,” the contract reads.

Employees have to prove that they are sick, usually through a doctor’s note, unless there is an obvious disability, such as if they were hit by a car, said Richard Zuckerman, the labor attorney for the village. Labor contracts typically dictate exactly what kind of proof employees must provide of their sickness and when, but such specifics are not made clear in the Westhampton Beach agreement.

“There are different rules for every jurisdiction,” Mr. Zuckerman said.

If officers cannot or do not offer enough proof of their illness to meet the police chief’s standards, the officers could be punished for abusing sick time and be subject to “command discipline,” or have sick time denied, Chief Dean said.

“Abusers will be held accountable,” he added.

It does not appear that any of the medical excuses the four officers in question have given are unsubstantiated, according to Mayor Teller.

Police officers in Westhampton Beach hired before September 1, 2004, get 20 sick days a year, accumulated at a rate of 1.67 days a month. Officers hired after September 1, 2004, get 15 sick days a year for the first five years and accumulate sick days at a rate of 1.25 days a month, then get the 20 days a year, according to Officer Speer. Officers can accumulate a maximum of 400 days of sick leave. If an employee exhausts sick leave benefits, they get one year emergency leave, according to the contract.

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Just from what has been in the papers over the last year about the WHB Police Department, maybe it is time to look at what happened on the north fork a few years ago. Why not let the Town of Southampton patrol; this might bring a more efficient organization to the community, and it will give the Villige Board and the Mayor less to fight about.
By Baloo (7), Remsenburg on May 3, 10 12:51 PM
2 members liked this comment
The "north fork a few years ago" was Greenport in the mid 1990s, and Southold Town assume responsibility for the village and I don't think anyone's regretted it since it happened.
By Frank Wheeler (1729), Northampton on May 3, 10 1:51 PM
1 member liked this comment
Although I am not a resident of this beautiful little Village and cannot speak for its' residents, it has become increasingly obvious to me that the dissolution of the PD needs to be studied at this time. I am sure they would be better off with the Southampton Town PD and I assume that it would be more cost effective for WHB as well. Unfortunately, the current political turmoil may prevent this from happening.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on May 3, 10 5:55 PM
2 members liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on May 3, 10 8:53 PM
Wake up! This happens in the business world all the time. Don't think for one moment this is isolated to the WHB police department.Give me a break. This is corporate America's biggest problem right now. People using sick days all the time. Ever hear of FMLA? People can have their doctors sign off and all they have is a stubbed toe. So, don't for one second think it's another problem just in the WHB police dept. I'm sure it's happening in Southampton Town PD too. It's everywhere and legally ...more
By hamptoniteforlife (15), WHB on May 4, 10 10:19 AM
1 member liked this comment
Your right, it is typically rampant in government and unionized organizations. There is plenty you can do, but it takes strong management and strong contract clauses; something that the Village Board, the Mayor, and the PD Brass lack. So why not cut your losses and try a different approach?
By Baloo (7), Remsenburg on May 4, 10 11:58 AM
1 member liked this comment
Well you are wrong.It can be stopped.
We can get ride of this over paid do nothing police department.
Do not forget over 28% of your taxes go to them
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on May 4, 10 9:30 PM
Well now we know why the crime that has gone on is never solved.
How can someone say "My health is my business"?
We are the ones paying you!!
Where has the chief been while all this has been going on?
Time to get ride of this over paid force.
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on May 4, 10 11:06 AM
What the paper failed to mention is two of the four officers mentioned are out on disability not sick time, due to work related injuries. One with a torn rotator cuff another with major back surgury. A third is out on sick time due to an abdominal hernia, which needed surgery. kinda changes the story doesn't it ?
By T.J. (29), WHB on May 4, 10 1:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
So, T.J. (aren't you T.J. Speer, President of the Westhampton Beach PBA?) are you saying that of "the four officers mentioned" in the story, it's just a coincidence that three or more of them are feuding with their Chief and the Mayor?

You wish to set the record straight? How about setting it really straight?
By Frank Wheeler (1729), Northampton on May 4, 10 3:26 PM
1 member liked this comment

Does it change the story because you are one of the fellow PD officers?
How could they get urt on the job when they are hidding and lieing?
Back surgury form sleeping in the PD car??
Torn rotator from coffee at 7-11
Give us a break!
You are all overpaid and do nothing.
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on May 4, 10 3:33 PM
2 members liked this comment
T.J. isnt really telling the TRUTH. NONE of these guys are out on disability. MAJOR back surgery. Yeah on an injury from years ago and after his friend Hank failed to get the charges against him from a Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs investigation dropped (thank you Mayor Teller). Does that change the story T.J.?
Torn Rotator cuff...Yeah an old injury from months ago and it was only discovered after the Chief of Police took him out of his cozy Detectives office and put him in uniform ...more
By The Truth (15), Westhampton on May 4, 10 5:07 PM
3 members liked this comment
"The Truth"
Just wanted to say thanks for the info.Why do these clowns think we are going to beive them with these dumb excuses they come up with.How can any of them have a disabilty claim when they do nothing but slep,hide and lie.Maybe it is time for someone else to look into these so-called claims and all this sick time and hold everyone accountible
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on May 4, 10 9:26 PM
"SICK HAPPENS"
By uncleronk (136), southold on May 4, 10 1:48 PM
and every LIRR employee seems to go out with a disabilty pension, even the desk job employees. These officers may have legitimate injuries, however the abuse that occurs in the public sector when it comes to disabilities taints virtually every case.
By diogenes (57), westhampton on May 4, 10 2:23 PM
12 HOUR TOURS WOULD SOLVE THIS PROBLEM. MORE COPS ON DURING LONGER PERIOD OF TIME ONE WHOLE SHIFT LESS TO SCHEDUAL. ALL EQUALS LESS OVER TIME FOR THE COPS MORE MONEY IN THE VILLAGE BANK AND MORE PATROL COVERAGE. THEY DO IT IN 85% OF THE VILLAGE AND TOWN POLICE DEPT THROUGH OUT SUFFOLK AND NASSAU. EAST END POLICEING NEEDS TO GET OUT OF 1961
By factsoflife (1), watermill on May 5, 10 6:52 PM
Hot Tubs, Saunas, massage chairs, outdoor experience