Jail boss upset hundreds of guards called in sick in storm

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NEW YORK (AP) — The city's jails commissioner said Tuesday it's "disappointing" that hundreds of guards called in sick and missed work during a snowstorm that prompted officials to cancel school, close the subway system and ban car travel last month.

Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte made the comments after a public meeting of the oversight board in which the department's highest-ranking uniformed officer, Martin Murphy, reported that 419 guards called in sick Jan. 26 and another 780 the next day.

"It's really a mandatory requirement, working in corrections and emergency, you have to report," Ponte said, noting any guards who missed work but didn't call in sick would be punished. "It's disappointing."

Murphy said officers working the midnight tours were required to work overtime after their replacements failed to show. In some cases, roll calls were virtually empty, prompting jail officials to lock down certain facilities until staffing arrangements could be made, he said.

About 5,600 jail guards work on any given day, most of them at the sprawling Rikers Island jail complex, where the majority of the city's nearly 11,000 inmates are housed.

The president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, Norman Seabrook, denied any labor action. He said many female officers, who make up about half of all guards, are single mothers who had to stay home with their children when the city cancelled school. He said others couldn't commute when the subway system was closed and road travel was banned.

"How are they going to get to work if they can't get on the road?" he said.

Officials and meteorologists had warned of a potentially historic storm, and before any snow even reached New York the bridges and tunnels were shut down, as was commuter rail service. The subway system was closed at 11 p.m. on Jan 26, though it reopened the following day. Drivers were told they'd be arrested if caught on the roads.

But the storm largely missed New York City, with only about 8 inches falling.

Correction officers are entitled to unlimited sick leave but must call in two hours before their shifts start, and they can miss only two consecutive days before they have to get a doctor's note proving an illness.

The Daily News first reported the sick calls.

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