July 30, 2008


State completes city court security takeover


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Former Cortland City Police Department Officers Bryan Nelson, right, and Todd Cook, in background, screen visitors inside City Hall Tuesday morning. The men are now employed by the New York State Court system.

Staff Reporter

Security at City Court officially became the responsibility of the state Tuesday, as two city police officers were sworn in as officers of the State Court System.
City Police Officers Todd M. Cook and Bryan C. Nelson transferred to the state Court system, and were sworn in by Acting City Judge Elizabeth Burns in a ceremony at City Court in City Hall.
The move means that Cook and Nelson will be dedicated to providing security for the City Court.
Both Cook and Nelson have been working as court officers since January, when the transition of responsibility from the city police to the state courts began.
The two officers work at the metal detector at the entrance to City Hall on Court Street, monitoring people who come in and making sure no weapons or other contraband enter the building. Court officers are also responsible for maintaining order during court sessions, securing the court and providing personal security for judges.
Since January, Cook and Nelson have undergone training for the new positions and acclimated themselves to the job, which became official Tuesday.
“It’s been kind of a long process, but we’re here now,” said Cook, a 10-year veteran of the City Police Department.
He said the move to state employment will mean more regular hours, a pay boost, and a new retirement — but there are things he said he will miss.
“It’s been a great job,” Cook said. “I’ll miss being out and about, working with the general population. I’ll miss working with the other officers, who I have a lot of really good relationships with.
“But there are a lot of benefits (to the move) that far outweigh that,” he said.
Cook and Nelson have families, and Nelson, who’s been a police officer for nine years, said the regular hours and holidays off will allow him to spend more time with his four children.
Cook is married with no children.
From the city’s perspective, the loss of the two police officers will have a minimal financial impact. The state courts paid the city for the officers’ salaries while they worked security at the entrance to City Hall and as court officers.
Both officers were paid $54,542 per year working for the City Police Department, and the department has no plans to replace them.
They will start their new positions in the state courts at the same salaries, but will forego the city’s 20-year retirement program for the state’s, in which employees can retire at age 55. Retirement benefits are determined by how long an employee has worked and at what pay grade.
There are currently 30 police officers in the City Police Department.
“We were reimbursing the city in full, so the dollar changeover isn’t significant,” said G. Russell Oechsle, the Sixth Judicial District’s district executive.
Cortland was the last of 17 municipalities in the Sixth Judicial District to complete the changeover from local police and sheriff’s deputies to court officers, Oechsle said, which marks the completion of a five-year effort.
The process took time, since negotiating the changes involved discussions with judges, cities and police departments to determine exactly which officers would be used and how to make the shift from contracts with each municipality to full-time state employment for the officers.
Oechsle said the change allows the officers to be completely dedicated to providing services to the court, and that they can also fill in at the County Courthouse, which joined the rest of the district’s counties in switching to state-employed court officers a year ago.


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