Sheriff opens eastern front

Hillsdale substation would house deputies in town hall

HILLSDALE — The sheriff is coming to town.

Later this year, the Columbia County’s Sheriff Office will establish its first-ever substation in the soon-to-be former Hillsdale Town Hall on Route 23, just west of the Route 22 intersection.

Sheriff David Harrison, Jr., and Captain David Bartlett appeared at the Hillsdale Town Board meeting March 15 to propose that the Town Board enter into an agreement with the Sheriff’s Office to use the old Town Hall as a substation when the town moves into its new digs at the former Roe Jan Library, across from the supermarket on Route 23.

Not only do Hillsdale officials like the idea, so do officials in the neighboring town of Copake, whose supervisor, Reggie Crowley recently sent the county’s Public Safety Committee a resolution adopted by the Town Board in February, “request [ing] the establishment of a full-time substation within the Town of Copake and surrounding towns… to address deficiencies of coverage.” Copake Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia sent a similar request to State Police at the Livingston Barracks.

Columbia County is made up of five law enforcement zones, Sheriff Harrison said in a phone interview Wednesday. The southeastern portion of the county, designated zone 801, includes all or part of Hillsdale, Copake, Ancram, Gallatin, Taghkanic and Claverack. Though it is probably the largest zone by area in the county, 801 is the only zone that does not have 24/7 police presence, the sheriff said.

The Sheriff’s Office in Greenport is located in zone 800 at the center of the county, made up of all or part of Stockport, Ghent, Claverack and Greenport. The State Police Livingston barracks is situated in zone 802, which contains all or part of Greenport, Claverack, Gallatin, Taghkanic, Livingston, Germantown and Clermont. Zone 803 encompasses part of Chatham, Kinderhook and Stuyvesant and has the State Police substation in Kinderhook. Zone 804 contains half of Chatham, Canaan, New Lebanon and Austerlitz and has the State Police substation in New Lebanon.

Having been contacted by town supervisors and residents about the possibility of establishing an eastern substation, the sheriff said he has been considering the idea for quite some time, “looking at different models,” for such an outpost, which is different from the satellite offices the Sheriff’s Office currently has in Ancram, Germantown, Valatie and Chatham.

A substation, he explained, has patrols assigned to each of three shifts around the clock. Deputies begin and end their shifts at the substation, which has space for interviews, processing arrests, doing paperwork, bathrooms, changing, dedicated phone lines and handicapped accessibility.

Satellite offices offer space that can be used for interviews, processing and paperwork when needed, but days can go by when deputies do not need or use a satellite office.

Currently all deputies report to work at the Public Safety Building in Greenport, pick up their patrol vehicles there and travel to their assigned zone; at the end of the shift, they return to Greenport.

When the Hillsdale substation opens, which right now looks like it will happen sometime in October, as soon as the town offices move out, seven deputies and one sergeant will be assigned and report to work there. If the sheriff can secure an upcoming grant, a K-9 (canine) patrol may also work out of the substation, he said. Two patrol vehicles will be stationed there, deputies will report to work there, change into their uniforms there and report back there at the end of shift.

Two deputies will be assigned to the day and afternoon shifts and three to the midnight shift, Sheriff Harrison said. The exception will be when deputies have vacation or other time off. Also, there will be times when a deputy from zone 801, may have to patrol to another zone, he said.

“Hillsdale is the best fit for us. It is easily accessible by the public, is handicapped accessible has the required utilities and phone lines and is close to the Hillsdale Highway Garage, where deputies will refuel their vehicles and reimburse the town,” he said.

It’s close to two major highways giving deputies quick access to major east (including to Massachusetts) and west travel on Route 23 and north/south travel on Route 22.

“We will be able to go anywhere within the zone quickly,” he said, noting the location is also two-and-a-half miles from the Taconic Hills Central School, the major school in the zone.

“There is no crime spree in Hillsdale,” the sheriff said, wanting the public to know that is not the reason for the substation.

Zone 801 has the same types and amount of crimes — burglaries, narcotics sales — as other zones, he said, though he did mention the arson/murder, armed robbery and library property damage shooting that took place nearby.

The sheriff said that a police substation acts as a deterrent to crime. “I want the substation to be a resource to the community. In 100 years, if we could come back, I think we’d find the substation still here.”

The agreement with Hillsdale provides that the Sheriff’s Office will pay the building utilities, while the town continues to own and maintain the historically significant building, which was the town’s original firehouse.

The town will also continue to use the building’s basement in connection with its youth recreation program.

Sheriff’s Office personnel will be shifted around to staff the substation, no new personnel will be hired, said the sheriff, who said he will take the proposal to the county Board of Supervisors for their approval, though it not necessary, since he has the money in his budget. He wants to move forward with everyone’s support.

The sheriff said having deputies operate out of the substation will ultimately save money in fuel costs and overtime.

Asked if having the Sheriff’s Office substation in Hillsdale will impact the continued operation of the Copake Police Department, Sheriff Harrison said he hoped not. While keeping a police department running is something that weighs heavily on municipalities that have them in terms of financing, the sheriff said he would not want to see any reduction in the number of police officers anywhere and hoped that no police department would be done away with.

Hillsdale Supervisor Art Baer said some residents at the March 15 meeting thought the town might be better off selling the building, while others were concerned that somehow the historic designation might be compromised.

Mr. Baer said the Town Board will try the arrangement with the Sheriff’s Office for a year and see how it goes. He said he doubted that the town would be able to sell the building, given the financial climate, within the year. He said the cost of utilities for the building for 2010 was $4,000 for electricity and oil.

Another concern was expressed by a local bar owner, who thought the presence of deputies in town will hurt the business. Deputies are not going to target any business, said Mr. Baer, but they will enforce the law.

Noting that the substation is another good example of infrastructure being brought to the hamlet, the supervisor said, “I think it’s a great deal.”

To contact Diane Valden email

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