Germantown mulls axing Police Department

GERMANTOWN—Eliminating the Germantown Police Department—or not—was the sole topic of a 90-minute Town Board budget workshop on October 17. All board members attended, along with half-a-dozen residents.

Germantown is one of only three towns in Columbia County that still has its own police force. The other two are Greenport and Stockport. Towns without their own police department count on law enforcement by officers from the county Sheriff’s Office and the State Police.

At the 2010 census, Germantown had 1,954 residents. Stockport had 2,815 and Greenport 4,165.

“Why do we need a police force?” Supervisor Joel Craig asked rhetorically. “The question comes up every year. Our constituency constantly asks us why Germantown has a police force when other towns don’t.”

This was not a reflection on the Police Department, he said. “Our officers work very hard and are very dedicated.” The force is down to three officers. The department’s 2015 budget request was for six officers—all part time—and a new patrol car. The cost of the car would be spread over seven years, at $5,000 per year. Other costs were kept flat, in order to swing the car.

In contrast, as a springboard for conversation, Mr. Craig had drawn up a preliminary town budget without the usual lines for police personnel and equipment and adding only $5,000 for contractual services to hire sheriff’s deputies for certain events. “This is more costly per hour than our guys,” he said, “but we wouldn’t have the overhead costs of cars and equipment.”

Additional savings would come in a lower insurance premium; “the fact that we have a paid force costs more on our insurance,” said Mr. Craig, and in the elimination of the town’s police pension contribution. GPD vehicles and equipment would be sold.

In 2014, Germantown budgeted $23,522 for police salaries, $1,000 for equipment and $11,000 for contractual, for a total of $35,522. In this instance, Mr. Craig said after the meeting, “contractual” meant everything else, including ammunition, gasoline, office supplies: “everything the police department buys.”

Greenport’s total police budget of $188,204 consisted of $150,704 for salaries, $2,000 for equipment and $35,500 contractual. Stockport budgeted $19,000 in salaries, 0 for equipment and $6,400 contractual, for a total of $25,400.

Six towns—Ancram, Claverack, Copake, Gallatin, Ghent and Tagkhanic—budgeted nothing for police coverage. Nine towns budgeted mostly for “contractual.” The villages of Chatham and Philmont have their own police forces separate from their towns.

Without a town police force, coverage of the weekly court session would end. “The judges prefer coverage on court night,” said Mr. Craig, “but Clermont and other towns don’t have it. Livingston does, though I don’t know where they’re pulling it from their budget.” In 2014, Livingston budgeted a total of $750 for police services, under the contractual heading.

The audience included officer-in-charge Brian DuBois and police commissioners Roger Rekow and John Rustici. Mr. Craig is also a police commissioner.

“Keep in mind,” said Mr. Rekow, “if you decide to go with sheriff’s deputies, contractually the sheriff’s department requires two deputies for a minimum of three hours, at about $125 per hour.” The $5,000 Mr. Craig had budgeted for contractual services was nowhere near enough for the Sheriff’s Office to have a presence at town events such as this year’s hours-long Fourth of July festival, said Mr. Rekow.

Further, he said, the Germantown police cover events at the Germantown Central School, such as sports and dances, at $50 per event; if the school district had to budget for Sheriff’s Office coverage, the expense to district taxpayers would be much greater. The school does have a resource officer, he said, Deputy Wendy Guntert, who began her police career on the Germantown force.

“Our total [police] budget wouldn’t cover the salary of one full-time officer,” said Mr. DuBois. “Our budget covers part-timers and equipment.”

The officers are paid monthly and required to serve a minimum of 19 hours per month, said Mr. Rekow. Most of them serve 24 to 30 hours a month. Police duty rotates, with no set schedule.

The police force takes annual in-service training, at no cost to the town, he said.

When a Germantown call comes into 911, “Whoever is closest to the incident takes care of it,” said Mr. DuBois, adding, “99% of the time we’re the closest. We also back up other units.”

Mr. DuBois and Mr. Rekow also said that the force for the Sheriff’s Office and the state troopers had been reduced. With deputies assigned to county office buildings and schools, there are fewer on patrol.

“Do we have statistics on crime in our region?” asked Councilman Matthew Phelan. “If random patrols reduce crime, can we find the statistics that prove it?”

“I have to say, if folks knew there was very little police coverage, they would take advantage,” said Mr. Rekow. He and Mr. DuBois also noted that Halloween night has not seen eggs or pumpkins thrown into the road. No one had crime statistics.

“I see no reason not to have a Police Department,” said Councilman Michael Mortenson. “We’re trying to bring in businesses and restaurants that would be open at night. We need the coverage,” of a local police force.

”It doesn’t seem like a whole lot of money,” he added, “when you consider that we spent $7,500 on ridiculous signs on the road. That’s a quarter of our Police Department budget.” The signs welcome drivers to Germantown and point out the business district.

“Where would the money go if we reduced the police budget?” asked Mr. Phelan. “Are we struggling in other places?”

“We’re not struggling at this point,” said Mr. Craig. “That’s the board’s job, to decide where you want the money to go.” The Lions Club annual apple festival would have to provide its own security, he said, as would the school. “Other than the school district, no one pays the town for police coverage,” he said.

“I prefer the Police Department to stay the way it is,” said Mr. Mortenson, “and I’m okay with the new car.”

Mr. Phelan asked to see the budget with the Police Department included and asked again for crime statistics.

Mr. Craig thanked everyone for a “great conversation” and said he would put the numbers into the budget.

The next budget workshop is Tuesday, October 28 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. The Public Hearing on the budget is Wednesday, November 5 at 7 p.m. in the Kellner Activities Building.

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