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NYC Correction Dept. slashes academy training time for officers in half

A New York City Department of Correction officer is pictured at Rikers Island's George R. Vierno Center (James Keivom/New York Daily News/TNS)

Amid staffing woes at New York City jails, the Correction Department has slashed the period of training for new recruits in half — from six months to three months — the Daily News has learned.

The current class of roughly 89 recruits in the Correction Department Academy will graduate May 19 under the reduced time line, sources told The News. The class began training in mid-February.

Sources said the move was triggered by a perceived need to fill slots quickly amid an ongoing decline in uniformed staff. The 89 recruits was far short of the 500 envisioned for 2023, the federal monitor for city jails said in an April report.

“They wanted bodies in the jails as fast as possible,” a correction source said. “It’s a bad idea. The training needs to be improved, not shortened.”

The sources said the plan was to supplement the shorter academy time with field training, but it wasn’t clear Monday whether that element of the plan was up and running.

Training at the Police Academy takes six months plus field training, according to the NYPD’s website.

Correction Department officials did not reply to requests for comment.

Benny Boscio, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said reducing the training period “is putting a Band-Aid” on the larger problem of staff attrition through retirements and resignations without funding to make up the difference in hiring.

“Training can always be restructured and revamped under various time lines, but ultimately we don’t have anywhere near the necessary boots on the ground to maintain safety and security for everyone in our jails,” Boscio said.

He called on the city to give correction officers a new contract and spend more to retain veteran officers.

Recent years have seen the uniformed head count in the jails steadily fall — from 10,862 in 2017 to 7,068 in 2022, a drop of 35%, figures from the comptroller’s office show. In the same period, the jail population has decreased from 9,500 to 5,559, or 41%.

As of Friday, there were 5,900 detainees in the jails, Vera Institute figures show.

COBA spokesman Michael Skelly said there were 5,810 correction officers as of April 4, according to the Office of Payroll Administration. That total does not include captains and higher uniformed ranks.

The ratio shows that for the first time in memory, there are fewer correction officers than detainees, he noted.

Meanwhile, the 89 recruits in the 2023 class mark a much smaller group than in prior recruiting classes. In 2022, there were 230 graduates, preceded by none in 2020 or 2021, and 382 in 2019, the federal monitor said in its April report.

From 2015 through 2018, the graduating classes exceeded 1,000 members in each year, including a class of 2,044 in 2017, the monitor said.

Steve Martin and Anna Friedberg of the monitor noted in the April report that many jails systems are having trouble attracting recruits post-pandemic.

“The ongoing staffing crisis, the conditions in the jails and overall tenor of the public discourse make it particularly difficult to both retain and attract staff.” the report said, adding that while some hiring is needed, the department doesn’t need thousands of new officers.

COBA officials pointed out that officers are spread across three tours. There are also officers out sick, medically or otherwise unavailable to work with detainees, on family leave or military leave.

On any given tour, there may be 120 to 150 officers available to work even in the largest jails, they said.

But, another insider noted, there are still plenty of correction officers in administrative jobs who could have been reassigned to the jails before reducing the training period.

This year’s class of 56 men and 33 women was one of the first to get training at the Police Academy in College Point, Queens, a $1.2 billion facility that is much larger and better equipped than the Correction Department Academy, which is in a mall in Middle Village, Queens.

“Whatever training they have now, they are brutalizing people and neglecting people. Officers and a captain watched Michael Nieves bleed to death from his throat for 10 minutes without doing anything,” said Victor Pate, co-director of the #HALTsolitary Campaign, referring to a detainee who died slitting his throat last year.

“They need to release people and these jails should be closed,” Pate added.


© 2023 New York Daily News

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