Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti, on the job less than a month, is trying to meet the public’s demand for more and more aggressive policing, even as the department’s manpower and overtime levels fall to their lowest level in more than a decade.

The department, which five years ago had 81 sworn police officers on the roster, is currently down to 71 and retirements are expected to drop that number to 69 by the end of the year. The city budget proposed by Mayor James Sottile could boost that number to 74 by mid-2012, but only if there are no further retirements.

Chief Tinti.

“Everyone is struggling in this economy, public and private sector, we have to do more with less,” said Tinti, who took over leadership of the department from former chief Gerald Keller last month. “We’re struggling.”

The manpower crunch began in 2009 after the city offered a series of retirement incentives to trim the payroll of expensive senior employees. The positions have, to a large degree, been left vacant — in part for budgetary reasons and in part because the department exhausted its active civil service list of qualified police candidates. Since then the department has dropped its minimum staffing levels of six officers on the day and midnight shift and seven on nights by one officer per shift. Each of the three shifts, meanwhile, requires at least 12 to 15 officers “assigned and available” to ensure that there will be enough officers to meet the minimum staffing levels while offering enough leeway for sick and vacation days, training, court time and other factors that may keep a cop off the beat.

In addition to the three patrol shifts, the department’s roster includes three cops assigned to Kingston High School when school is in session, 11 assigned to the detective division, an administrative sergeant who handles the department’s budget and training regimen, and an administrative officer who looks after the department’s vehicles, building maintenance and other day-to-day administrative tasks.

‘Totally reactive’

Barry Rell, president of the Kingston Police Benevolent Association, said the low staffing levels leave just enough cops to patrol the streets and respond to an average of 22,000 calls for service each year, while proactive details like traffic enforcement fall by the wayside.

(Slideshow photo by Dan Barton)