Syracuse police chief to serve in ‘civilian capacity’ because he can’t pass state fitness test

Syracuse, N.Y. — Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner said Friday that he will serve in a “civilian capacity” atop the police department because he cannot pass a stringent physical fitness test required of sworn officers.

Buckner, who became chief in December 2018, said he is unable to run 1.5 miles in about 13 minutes.

“While I have improved my fitness and can complete the majority of the physical requirements, I am unable to finish the 1.5 mile run in the required time,” Buckner said in a statement. “With the next deadline approaching early December, I have decided at this time not to continue to pursue state certification.”

The lack of state certification does not impact the chief’s ability to serve, Buckner said in the statement.

But “out of respect for the certification process and all those who have completed it,” Buckner will not wear a police uniform while serving as chief.

Buckner, who was hired from his previous position as chief of police in Little Rock, Ark., came here on a provisional basis until he was able to get certified as a New York officer. In the meantime, he’s been afforded all the rights of a standard cop, including carrying a gun and badge.

The state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services allows one year for an out-of-state transfer to get certified here. That certification, for Buckner, included 386 hours of training as well as a physical fitness exam.

In November 2019, he was given a one-year extension to pass the certification requirements, but he announced Friday he would no longer seek the certification.

Buckner will no longer have arrest powers or be allowed to carry a gun, but he stressed that he will carry out all his administrative duties in charge of the department as before.

“I had my own private disappointment moments, but I thought it was important enough given my position in the city to be transparent,” he said of the decision not to seek the certification and why he announced it Friday. “… Everyone knows how tough it is to get in shape.”

Mayor Ben Walsh, at a news conference, praised Buckner’s performance as chief and said the lack of certification should not make the public doubt his ability to run the department.

“His ability or lack thereof to run a mile and a half in under 13 minutes has absolutely no bearing on his ability to do the job,” Walsh said.

The Syracuse police union has made an issue of Buckner’s certification. The union clashed with Buckner in early 2019 over public comments the chief made about officer behavior, among other things. Many officers refused to march in the annual St. Patrick’s Parade in a public display of discord with the chief.

Buckner’s full statement is below:

Today, Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner announced he would not continue to pursue New York State police officer certification. Under local and state law, the Chief is not required to be a sworn officer. Chief Buckner is able to

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