Roughly one week after a police officer was hurt by a resident of Cayuga Centers, the agency's board of trustees received a letter from Auburn Police Local 195: "We can no longer accept that a good faith effort is being made to fix what we feel is broken."
The Aug. 9 letter from the city police officers union went on to discuss concerns with Cayuga Centers and its residential treatment program for at-risk youth in Auburn. The concerns included a "steady increase in calls for service" to the APD from the agency, including sex offenses, assaults and missing person complaints. The letter also addressed issues with violent residents and "inexperienced staff."
"The volume and severity of these calls continues to rise and something needs to be done," it said.
The union's letter came a few months after Auburn Police Department leadership raised its own concerns with Cayuga Centers. In May, Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler opened a dialogue with the agency following the death of one of its residents.
At the time, police discovered 17-year-old Destani Williams had died at a hospital in Dunkirk, less than one week after she was reported missing from Cayuga Centers' Auburn campus. That sparked a serious conversation between police and the agency's administration, which agreed more could be done to improve safety for residents.
But now, there is another safety concern — this time, for the officers and ultimately the public.
On April 4, Officer Donald Laraway suffered a severe sprain to his ankle and was punched in the face while dealing with "an out of control youth" at Cayuga Centers, Butler said. Then, on July 31, Officer Scott Deyo fractured his right elbow and sustained several lacerations to his elbows and knees while arresting a 16-year-old resident on Osborne Street.
That, Butler said, was the last straw.
"That incident really brought our officers to another level of frustration," the police chief said Friday. "It really prompted the letter."
In the letter, Auburn Police Local 195 President Joe Villano said there have been 515 missing person complaints from Cayuga Centers since 2014; 96 of those were from this year.
"That's 515 different opportunities for 'runaway' residents to commit crimes in our community, throughout our neighborhoods, at the expense of our local resources," Villano said. "If these residents are willing to attack a police officer, nothing is going to stop them from attacking our neighbors, our friends and our children. It's only a matter of time."
"Please understand that we are not blaming the current staff for their inexperience," Villano added. "To be very clear, our problem is with the Administrator and his apparent willingness to sacrifice the stability of his facility, and neighborhoods/community/police relations in return for maintaining a high volume of residents that he doesn't have the resources to manage."
Cayuga Centers President and CEO Edward Hayes disputed that characterization.
In a phone interview Friday with The Citizen, Hayes said the agency is currently at half capacity, which indicates an effort to only accept "appropriate residents" at the non-secure facility.
In addition, he said the agency has taken steps to address the police department's concerns, noting there has been "a tremendous amount of training" for Cayuga Centers staff following his discussions with the police department.
"We certainly regret whenever anybody is injured," Hayes said. "I recognize that there is a lot of concern on the police officers' part, and I respect that. ... But progress is a slow and constant thing."
Chief Butler agreed on that point.
"There is no quick fix," he said. "We are trying to figure out what the best solution is, but unfortunately nothing concrete has come out of that yet."
Initially, the police department had considered placing an officer at Cayuga Centers in an effort to reduce the number of runaways and other incidents on campus. However, Butler said that is no longer an option due to a lack of manpower and funding at the APD.
According to Butler, police have responded to 209 incidents at Cayuga Centers this year. On average, officers have spent two hours and 39 minutes on each call.
"That's excessive," Butler said, noting that the majority of calls have been to report missing residents. "That's definitely indicative of an issue taking up a lot of our resources."
In order to address the union's safety concerns, the chief signed off on a temporary order in which two officers will now respond to calls for service at Cayuga Centers.
"Most of those calls don't require a two-man response, but this will help our officers protect themselves when going to these calls," Butler said. "It's something in our realm of power to try to correct and alleviate some of these issues. ... A lot of this lies on Cayuga Centers' shoulders."
Meanwhile, David Connelly — Cayuga Centers Board of Trustees chairman — said the board is aware of the police union's concerns, but feels the situation is in good hands.
"These are two extraordinary leaders in the community and I have confidence that they are going to work it out," Connelly said of Butler and Hayes. "(Cayuga Centers) needs the support of the police department. ... I think it's hugely important to the community."