Staffing shortages a law enforcement labor union blames on a lack of competitive pay and retirement benefits has created a mental health crisis for its members to deal with, the PBA of New York State on Wednesday said.

The union's president urged Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers to address the problem amid ongoing concerns over compensation. The union represents three law enforcement agencies in the state: New York State Park Police, New York State University Police and Encon Officers and Forest Rangers from the State Department of Environmental Conservation. 

“We’re losing officers every day across the state to local police departments that provide better retirement benefits and compensation and that’s creating serious staffing and experience shortages that will prevent us from being able to respond to people experiencing mental health crises,” said PBA of New York State President Manny Vilar. “We are a proactive police force that is often called upon to save the life of a person experiencing a mental health crisis and these current deficits are jeopardizing the state’s ability to keep people safe.”

Many sectors of the economy over the last several years have struggled with worker retention and recruitment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The problems raised by the PBA, however, stem in part from the more straightforward lack of competitive pay, the union's president said. 

At issue are staffing levels brought on in part by contracts and pay disparity between officers in the PBA's agencies and local law enforcement agencies, as well as poor recruitment, a failure to run academy classes and an "antiquated" retirement system, have led to a staffing crunch. 

The push by the labor union comes as the state budget season is beginning in Albany, with Hochul set to release her first spending proposal of her tenure in the coming weeks. 

"No person who puts their life on the line to protect and serve New Yorkers should be forced to make the difficult choice between remaining with the agency they love or providing for their family," Villar said. "Governor Hochul’s recent statements give our members and their families reason to be hopeful for their future and the state’s as a whole.”