IT’S NOT OFTEN citizens get to decide whether to abolish their police force. But that’s exactly what Germantown voters are being asked to decide in the November 6 general election.
In name only, the town still has a Police Department. It has no active police officers and much of its equipment is being sold or discarded as out of date or not worth repairing. At last report one of its two assault rifles had been donated and there were plans to dispose of the other one. That’s a good idea. Reviews by two independent consultants found that recent Germantown cops didn’t have proper firearms training.
The Town Board was poised to shutter the Germantown Police Department, but abolishing a government department, even a tiny one, isn’t a power reserved exclusively to the board. If enough people sign petitions demanding the right of the public to determine the fate of a department, the question must appear on the ballot at the next general election. In Germantown enough people signed.
So if you are registered to vote in Germantown you will find this referendum on the back of your ballot on Election Day: “Shall the Town of Germantown Local Law No. 2 of 2018 abolishing the Town of the Germantown Police Department be approved? Yes__ No__.”
If you vote Yes, will the town remain as safe as it has been? If you vote No, can the town afford to reconstitute an adequately trained, equipped and supervised police force?
The Town Board wrestled with those questions this week in a letter to the public. Dated October 22, the letter starts with summary of the first outside review, which was commissioned by the previous board in 2015 and conducted by Peter Volkmann, the police chief in the Village of Chatham. Among the problems he found were: “incomplete and outdated policy manual, incomplete mandatory and recommended training, heightened liability for the town, and a widely apparent disconnect between the existing department and the community and other law enforcement agencies.”
That’s the kind of report card that you’d think would lead to major changes at the GPD. But three years and one consultant later the situation had only gotten worse. Last June the new consultant, retired NY State Police Superintendent Harry Corbitt, gave the present Town Board the bad news. He described the GPD’s its deficiencies as “so profound, the only recommendation that can be offered objectively is to ensure that the department refrain [from] engaging in any police services.”
In short, the GPD, what there was of it, amounted to a lawsuit waiting to happen. The current Town Board says the remaining two officers in 2017 worked only a few hours one night a week providing security for Town Court plus some duty at events and funerals. The board says it added up to $400 per hour factoring in all the costs.
Feeling any safer?
You might if you knew that State Police and Sheriff’s Office deputies regularly patrol the town and help with traffic and other duties at celebrations and funerals at no additional cost to the town. Deputies and troopers are highly trained, full-time police officers. The board also says the Sheriff’s Office will increase its presence in the town–beyond the resident deputy, the school resource officer and the existing road patrols–for $2,500 or less per year.
A municipal police department for sparsely populated communities like Germantown is not only an unaffordable luxury, it’s a fantasy. The town needs police emergency services 24/7 and only the county and state have the resources to reliably sustain them. You aren’t safer with poorly trained local police, you’re at greater risk.
This referendum is an exercise of the constitutional right to petition the government to resolve a problem. Go out and exercise that right. Vote Yes to abolish the Germantown Police Department.
Last week for election letters
FOR OUR NEXT ISSUE, November 1, we will accept only letters in support of candidates or ballot issues. The only exceptions are for candidates who respond to specific charges made against them in the previous issue (October 25).
• Send letters in the body of an email to (No Attachments)
• Letters are processed in the order received; deadline is noon Monday, October 29
• Include your first and last name, community and phone number (we call to confirm letters)
• Priority goes to writers who have not yet had letters published.