This past year was busy and productive for the PBA Board of Directors and membership.
Sadly, we will once again place the names of New York State Troopers on the walls of both the state and national police memorials in 2017. Trooper Timothy Pratt was tragically killed in the line of duty on Oct. 26, 2016. In addition, we incurred a 9/11-related death with the passing of Inv. Paul Stuewer on Oct. 5. The 2011 death of Trooper Covel “Chase” Pierce, who retired in 2004 after a 30-year career, was finally recognized as being the result of his exposure to toxins during his deployment at Ground Zero.
We are proud to announce the PBA’s Signal 30 Benefit Fund has once again had a banner year, with a $1.3 million increase in revenue this year alone. That is a 40 percent increase during the past three years. With the help of our 1,145 members who donate to Signal 30 through payroll deduction, we have given out 120 grant checks in 2016 ranging from support to members who endured house fires, to funeral expenses, to helping purchase a service dog for a child with autism. Recently, that same dog prevented the child from running into traffic in front of his school and thus prevented serious injury. We were also able to help offset medical costs for a newborn who suffered a brain injury at birth, a newborn with a rare congenital heart defect and a child with digestive issues, just to name a few. We were also able to donate to The Ryan McElroy Children’s Cancer Foundation in 2016.
The PBA Scholarship Program successfully completed its second year with the awarding of 25 new four-year scholarships worth a total of $4,000 apiece. In addition, Signal 30 Board member Steve Edelson, his wife Ellen and daughter Lynda unveiled the inaugural Sgt. Jeffry T. Edelson Memorial Scholarship. Fifteen scholarships – for a total of $22,500 – were awarded in remembrance of Sgt. Edelson, who tragically lost his life on Nov. 23, 2003 while performing his duties on State Route 55 in the town of Liberty, Troop F. And lastly, we are pleased to share that next year will also feature the awarding of the new $20,000 Silver Shield Foundation Scholarship. Details on this scholarship as well as applications for the aforementioned awards will be posted on the PBA website.
The State Trooper Surgeons of the NYS Troopers PBA has also had an incredible year and is now the largest such entity in America with more than 2,000 active member physicians statewide. The development of our Executive Care Program and the professional routing of care for our members have grown considerably during the year.
The addition of an Executive Care Nurse to the program has proven to be an invaluable asset in the timely navigation of the health care system. Our Executive Care Program has helped 125 State Trooper families obtain expedited access to specialized surgery, second opinions for tough diagnoses and appointments with high-caliber physicians throughout New York state. In reality, 125 patients represent consistent contact until the medical complaint is resolved, which can be numerous days of contact until completion.
We have also helped more than 50 families with emergent care, moving patients to higher-level hospitals, providing access to physicians to discuss the best care or paving the way for smooth access to an emergency room when patients were en route.
Here’s an impressive example of the value of our surgeons group. The 21-year-old niece of one of our members was suffering from a rare condition in her abdomen, causing extreme pain and severe swelling. Two hospital networks failed to diagnose this rare condition and the patient was failing quickly after weeks in the Intensive Care Unit and in a medically-induced coma. The member contacted Dr. Mark Gestring, one of our State Trooper Chief Surgeons and head of Trauma Surgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Dr. Gestring orchestrated the best physicians possible to ensure that the patient received expedited, top-flight care. After these hand-picked U of R surgeons were reluctant to provide surgery due the fragile condition of the patient, Dr. Gestring stepped up in dramatic fashion. He offered to complete the necessary surgery to try to save her life, letting the family know that there was no guarantee that she would make it through the surgery. Three surgeries later, she made it through and Chief Surgeon Gestring is credited with a life saved. Experiences such as this happen on a weekly basis.
We also established our Capital Region heart scan program and provided 54 Troopers or family members with valuable information on their cardiovascular health. Nearly 10 percent of NYSP line-of-duty deaths were cardiovascular related in the past 10 years, so a strong focus on heart health screening is important for our Troopers. We have more dates set for heart scans for 2017 and we will continue to develop health care screening opportunities for members across the state.
In Division-related news, we welcomed Superintendent George Beach to the helm of the New York State Police following the retirement of Superintendent Joseph D’Amico. Both men have proven to be competent and able leaders and the relationship that we enjoyed under Superintendent D’Amico is continuing under Superintendent Beach.
The Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) complaint that we filed in July 2015 led to an additional $35 million in funding for new patrol vehicles along with Division stating that it will replace all high-mileage patrol vehicles by the end of this fiscal year. As we approach this deadline in a few months the vehicles are slowly arriving at various Troop Headquarters. Thirty-three cars have just arrived and 151 more will be here by the end of January. The snail’s pace at which vehicles are arriving have to do more with manufacturing and shipping delays than ordering problems. There is a pending order for 124 Chargers, 42 Ford Utilities and 41 Tahoes, and they should arrive in about six months. As there is still an abundance of high-mileage vehicles around Division, the PBA will ask the NYS Legislature for an additional $20 million to help accomplish this task in the coming weeks.
The additional vests and rifles that the PBA pushed for following the San Bernardino shooting a year ago have finally arrived. In the wake of that terrorist attack, the Troopers PBA issued a press release on Dec. 3, 2015 calling for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include in his upcoming Executive Budget an increase in manpower and patrol rifles for Troopers. We argued that Troopers are first responders on the front lines of keeping our homeland safe from acts of terrorism and anyone who means harm to the public. As a result, the Governor included in his Executive Budget appropriations for 424 rifles, 1,700 rifle plate carriers and 1,500 ballistic helmets as well as a class of 255 recruits. Besides the ever-present threat of terrorism, the increase in unprovoked shootings and murders of police officers around the country show that these items are paramount for us to perform our duties. The nation suffered 135 line-of-duty deaths of police officers during 2016. Of this number, 64 were a result of firearms, and most disturbingly is that 21 were ambush-style murders, the most in more than two decades.
Division manpower is at an all-time high with more than 3,000 Troopers wearing the uniform, and 419 new Troopers were added to the payroll this year alone. However, our duties are ever increasing and we remain vigilant in asking the Legislature for even more manpower, especially in light of steady retirements year after year. Within the next month, I will be testifying before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee during the public safety portion to push for new Troopers and items intended to help keep our members safe.
Legislatively, binding arbitration was renewed for an additional three years and the Military Buyback Bill was signed into law, which affects scores of our members. In other matters, Gov. Cuomo signed the bill to amend the Workers Compensation and the Retirement and Social Security laws permitting those who have yet to file their notice of World Trade Center participation registration forms, to now do so with both systems. Sept. 11, 2018 is the new deadline to file a WTC-12 form with the Workers Compensation system and a Notice Of Participation form with the applicable Retirement System.
The new legislative session will be starting and the Governor’s State of the State and Budget addresses will be given the week of January 9. This is a pivotal year as there is a continued anti-police climate that permeates throughout the nation.
The PBA membership, as well as the public and police community as a whole, banded together in October to stop the release of the murderer of Inv. Robert L. VanHall, Jr. The PBA will ask for your help in the fall to ensure that the murderer of Trooper Emerson Dillon remains behind bars.
Looking forward to 2017, the PBA plans on sitting down with the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations and negotiating for an additional 0.5% raise in each of the last two years of our current collective bargaining agreement (2016-17, 2017-18). In addition, both PEF and NYSCOPBA have settled contracts that go beyond our current one. PEF now has ratified an agreement from April 1, 2016 – March 31, 2019 and NYSCOPBA has reached a tentative one from April 1, 2016 – March 31, 2021. We are currently digesting both agreements to ascertain the pros and cons of each.
Lastly, 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Division of State Police, and the PBA looks forward to helping celebrate the occasion.
As always, we appreciate your support. Your outstanding dedication to public safety and unparalleled professionalism make it easy for us to advocate on your behalf for improvements to your resources and working conditions. We will continue to communicate our tireless efforts through the PBA website and our enewsletters such as this one. Stay safe.
— President Thomas H. Mungeer and the PBA Board of Directors