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Erie County Sheriff on staffing crunch: "We are being set up to fail"

Posted at 6:58 PM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-10 18:58:40-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Erie County Sheriff John Garcia is sounding the alarm over staffing issues that he says are driving his corrections officers to depression and anxiety.

In a one-on-one interview, Garcia tells 7 News that his office has already paid out more than 46,000 hours of overtime so far this year, and is on track to outpace last year's 225,000 hours in paid overtime, which amounted to $9.5 million.

"Last week, the midnight shift, out of five days, four days they were forced to work 16 hour days. That gives you enough time to drive home, sleep, eat, shower maybe spend a couple minutes with your family, and drive back. That's not healthy," said Garcia.

Garcia says he is short 128 officers to fulfill state requirements. As a result, they rely on overtime to staff the county's two correctional facilities, the Erie County Holding Center and Alden Correctional.

"We cant continue to burn out our greatest resource which is our men and women in corrections and continue down this road," said Garcia.

In response to questions from 7 News, Ben Swanekamp, Deputy Director of Erie County's Office of Budget & Management says, "as a general rule for Erie County, overtime is a less expensive way to fill shifts than to create new positions, because the county has very high fringe costs."

There is a pattern of overtime issues within the Erie County Sheriff's Office. According to budget data, the ECSO has blown past its budgeted overtime spending every year since 2013, except for 2014.

But Garcia says things were made more difficult in 2020 when 40 positions were cut, of which 17 were in corrections, and only eight were since regained.

During mid-year budget hearings in July, Garcia will be asking the County Legislature for more money to beef up his workforce.

"We have to take a look at their budget see where they're at. See where there may be shortages in their spending, see where we could plug some gaps," said legislator Howard Johnson, who chairs the county's Public Safety Committee.

This is not the first time legislators have considered staffing issues inside the ECSO. According to budget data provided to 7 News, the Legislature has added at least 95 positions since 2012.

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