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Officials approve Harlem fire/police split

Posted: November 25, 2012 - 1:02am

Harlem officials have decided to separate the Harlem Department of Public Safety’s law enforcement and fire operations.

City Manager Jason Rizner has permission to implement the change to a more traditional method of operation following a vote Monday by city council.

There will be “fairly substantial savings going back to traditional operations,” Rizner said.

The former Harlem Volunteer Fire Department and the Harlem Police Department merged into the Public Safety Department nearly 10 years ago. Since then, public safety officers were cross-trained to be firefighters, responding to fires alongside volunteers.

It is difficult to recruit cross-trained employees, Rizner said. Most law enforcement officers must spend several months in costly firefighting training, resulting in overtime pay and requiring expensive firefighting gear.

“We have run into so many problems trying to continue with the public safety with our budget,” City Councilman John Thigpen said. “We’ve got to look at other ways to save.”

High turnover is another problem with the public safety system, Thigpen said. The city pays to train employees who often leave for other job opportunities.

“Once we get them trained, they are more valuable to someone else,” he said. A timeline for the change hasn’t been set.

Also Monday, city leaders granted a leave of absence to City Councilman Rudolph Dixon, who fell and broke his hip in September.

He’s been released from a rehabilitation facility and is recovering at his daughter’s home in Cartersville, Ga.

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