Harlem splits law enforcement and fire operations

City officials decided this week 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 operating after 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 have been 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,” Thigpen said.

No timeline for the change has been set.



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