KEEP POLICE DEPT? BUDGET WORKSHOP DISCUSSES THE ISSUE
Notes on the Budget Workshop 10-19-2014
(Please see editorial comment at bottom of story)
The budget workshop held on Friday, October 19th had full attendance of the Board and the Police Chief, Brian DuBoise and the two Police Commissioners, Roger Rekow and John Rustici. The meeting was to discuss the budget proposed for consideration by Supervisor Joel Craig. However, since one of the issues was what impact the dissolution of the Germantown Police Department would have upon the budget, that topic took up the whole meeting. Joel had a budget that had removed all the costs attributed to having the Police Department reduced to zero to spur discussion. Joel said that the issue of to have or have not a Police Department has been around for some time and he wanted to have a thorough discussion about it.
The meeting became a back-and-forth between the Board and the Commissioners and the Police Chief, with the three advocates making impassioned presentations of the value to the Town of the Police presence and the Board members asking questions. The Commission members had asked for the addition of 2 more officers to be added to the staff. They had also asked for a new vehicle, the annual cost of a $5,000 payment would be stretched out for a 7 year period.
The Police Department currently has 3 part-time officers, reduced from 4 by the departure of one. They were seeking to regain that empty spot and add 2 additional officers. The Police Department often has the benefit of Police Academy graduates who volunteer in order to keep their certification current. The Town’s officers are paid a salary equal to 130 hours of service. They often work beyond those hours, depending on the specific needs they encounter. without additional pay. During their work they patrol the roads, various parks and other public property, provide assistance to EMS or the Fire Department if needed, issue traffic tickets and warnings, respond to alarms in businesses and residences, respond to noise or trespass complaints called in by residents, act as security at the Court sessions, and respond to domestic violence situations. The Police Department provides assistance and security for Town events such as the 4th of July Celebration, the Hudson Valley Apple Fest in September, the Halloween activities, and the Holiday Walk in December. They provide security for School events and are paid by the School District for that.
Any calls to 911 go directly to the Columbia County Sheriff’s office. That office will find County Police officers or State Police officers who are closest to the location of the complaint. If there is a Germantown Police car in the nearby vicinity they will be called to respond. However, a resident of Germantown who wants help from the police must call 911; they cannot reach the Germantown Police Department. There is no local dispatch system; calls must be made to 911, and the County manages the dispatch. Roger says that Germantown will provide backup in another locality nearby if called upon.
Questions are asked about other towns that do not have a police Department. Are they less secure? Matthew Phelan asks if the crime rates are higher in towns without local police and that rely on the County Police. There doesn’t seem to be any easily obtained figures about this. Roger Rekow says that County patrol coverage has been reduced over the past few years. Mike Mortenson says that the sense of the police presence serves as a deterrent to crime and especially “mischief” on the part of teenagers and cites the success of the Halloween activities that have had no problems ever since the police have been actively engaged that evening and night. Roger says if the Town disbanded the Department it would take 5 to 7 years to reinstate it if they had regrets.
Another issue to consider is that of the cost of hiring County officers to replace the hours of service the current Police Department provides to the town. The “rental price” is high because higher seniority police have the first choice of assignments. Renting coverage has the cost based on a 3 hour minimum. Apparently the Court is not require police sescurity, although there have been improvement to the facilities for that purpose. For example, the new security doors that have been installed and the new chairs in the main room which are designed to be attached to each other to deter someone using a chair as a weapon. Chief DuBoise says those nights when the District Attorney is attending the Court session, do need security present.
Questions are asked about the request for a new Police Patrol car, indicated in the budget as $5.000 per year for 7 years. It seems quite true that they will need a new car if the Police Department continues, because the present car is on its last wheels.
Questions are asked about the level of training for the personnel. Everyone has certain training that they must take part in annually, such as “deadly force” training. Police officers must personally experience Taser and Pepper Spray in order to appreciate its impact. There are also special training classes that they may undertake voluntarily. The Academy graduates are entitled to be armed but they must have 160 hours of patrolling before they may ride alone.
Mike Mortenson asks “What are the downsides of having a Police Department?” Matthew asks “what is the impact on the risk assessment for insurance?” Insurance costs rise if you have someone with a gun, says Don. However it seems that the insurance liability policy is one lump sum for all personnel so it would be hard to factor out what the Police Department adds to the cost.
Summing up, Roger Rekow says that keeping the Police Department is less expensive than “renting” Police coverage from the County, and it provides the Town with more intangible benefits.
Mike says he wants to “keep the Police Department and give them the car too!” Matthew says he has learned more about the benefits but he doesn’t see the good feelings backed up by any numbers. [about crime level, deterrence].
Joel says he is glad they had this opportunity to have a frank conversation about the issue.
Don says they were gratified by the civil discourse and honest exchange of views.
Joel schedules another Workshop meeting for Tuesday, the 28th of October, to arrive at the budget they will propose to the public at the Public Hearing on November 5th at 7 PM at the Kellner Activities Building.
The next monthly Board Meeting will be on Monday October 27th.
To the best of my ability
Kay Abraham 537-5404
See Editorial Comment below:
[ A few years ago the the town of Copake went through a year-long process and referendum to determine if they should keep their Police Department, ending in a narrow victory for those who wished to close it. There are few towns the size of Germantown that have their own Police Departments; the vast majority rely on the County and State systems for security. The Town of Kinderhook is an example of a larger town that currently relies on the County for its general security. Supervisor Craig said he would reach out to the two towns to see how that decision has turned out. as far as public satisfaction, and what impact it has had on their budgets. –Ed.]