The Cost of Policing

Approaches vary village to village

By Michael Turton

Should Cold Spring have its own police department, and is the current model the most cost effective? Those questions, raised in the run-up to the recent village election, may soon take center stage, though outgoing Mayor Ralph Falloon and Mayor-elect Dave Merandy have both said they believe keeping the Cold Spring Police Department (CSPD) is less costly than having the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department provide police protection.

At the same time, Putnam County is examining the feasibility of consolidating local police forces after Town of Carmel trustees indicated that the cost of operating independent police forces has become unsustainable. The answers, or at least other options, may lie somewhere in between — and in other nearby communities.

Cold Spring has 24-hour police protection while villages such as Fishkill, Millbrook and Rhinebeck limit overnight shifts.

Cold Spring has 24-hour police protection while villages such as Fishkill, Millbrook and Rhinebeck limit overnight shifts.

The cost of operating CSPD will be $416,418 in 2015–16, or 15 percent of total village spending. That puts the cost of police protection at $210 per resident based on a population of 1,893. With 14 officers, all part-time, the village realizes considerable savings because no benefits are paid. Hourly wages range from $22.92 to $30.02, with the officer-in-charge earning $32.02 per hour plus a stipend of $125 per week.

Police spending is greater in the Town of Kent, which employs a full-time force consisting of one lieutenant, four sergeants, three detectives, 11 police officers, one canine officer and five dispatchers. With a population of more than 13,000 and annual spending of more than $3.6 million, the cost of police protection is about $271 per resident. Like Cold Spring, officers are on duty 24 hours a day.

More meaningful comparisons, and possible alternative approaches, may be drawn from the villages of Fishkill, Millbrook and Rhinebeck.

What other villages spend

The Village of Fishkill employs 25 part-time police officers in a department administered by a civilian commissioner. With a population of 2,171 and spending of just over $609,000, the annual cost of police protection per resident is about $280. The Town of Fishkill provides police coverage between midnight and 6 a.m. from Sunday through Wednesday at no cost to the village.

In the Village of Millbrook, population 1,452, the annual cost of police protection is slightly less than $69 per resident. In recent years Millbrook reduced the number of part-time officers from 14 in 1997 to just five in 2015. Total spending is now $99,620, with officers paid $18.25 per hour. The officer-in-charge earns $18.50 per hour. No night shift is employed, however officers may be on call.

During summer months, coverage is expanded with an officer on duty until 1 a.m. A spokesman for the department told The Paper that in 2015 the village will hire Dutchess County sheriff’s deputies for the first time, but only to assist at special events.

Putnam County sheriff's deputies visit Cold Spring regularly and work out of a substation in Nelsonville. 

Putnam County sheriff’s deputies visit Cold Spring regularly and work out of a substation in Nelsonville.

The Village of Rhinebeck presents an interesting hybrid. Police protection costs $444,700, however the village receives approximately $45,000 per year for policing it provides to the Town of Rhinebeck, which has no police department. The result is that with a population of 2,657, the net cost of police protection per resident is about $150.

Like Millbrook, officers are not on duty overnight. New York State Police and Dutchess County sheriff’s deputies cover the village between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., at no cost to the village. Rhinebeck employs 11 part-time officers.

While these small communities may present alternatives in evaluating the future of the CSPD, it seems trustees will also have to at least consider a potential partnership with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department. If the village were required to purchase the sheriff’s services outright, costs could very well increase, as both Merandy and Falloon fear. A first-year deputy currently earns about $67,000 in annual salary and benefits, and for a five-year veteran that cost increases to about $120,000.

When The Paper asked Putnam County Finance Commissioner Bill Carlin what Cold Spring might expect to pay to have the sheriff provide police services, he said: “There is no easy answer. That would all have to be negotiated.” At one end of the spectrum is the high cost of deputies along with potential additional support costs. At the other end is the Town of Putnam Valley, which has no police force but is patrolled by the Putnam County sheriff. Carlin said Putnam Valley pays no fee for that service. The cost is born as part of the Putnam County budget.

Patrolling Cold Spring

Cost is not the only factor. Falloon has expressed concern about loss of local control over how Cold Spring is policed, should the sheriff take over law enforcement. Currently a CSPD officer patrols the village 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Would residents accept sheriff’s patrols that would likely be less frequent, even with a substation located nearby in Nelsonville?

Current productivity levels of the CSPD would also likely have to be discussed. The Paper examined monthly reports to the Village Board from Officer-in-Charge George Kane between December 2012 and January 2015. The reports have varied in format, and on occasion no report was presented. Reports were generally treated mainly as a “note and file” item by the board with little discussion other than occasional comments regarding the number of parking tickets issued.

CSPD Officer-in-Charge George Kane

CSPD Officer-in-Charge George Kane

A few months ago, detailed spreadsheets gave way to brief summaries. Even when the detailed format was used, no breakdown of police activity by shift was given, making meaningful analysis more difficult.

Based on the monthly data provided, CSPD has responded to an average of 80 calls per month from residents and issued an average of 53 traffic tickets per month. Included in the latter was an average of 20 speeding tickets along with three additional speeding tickets issued in school zones. The CSPD averaged about three arrests per month on a variety of charges that ranged from assault and forgery to disorderly conduct and operating a vehicle without a license. The number of parking tickets written per month ranged from as low as 14 to as many as 101, with the average being 55.

Weighing options

Sheriff Donald Smith likes to point out that Putnam is the safest county in New York state, and village officials will need to consider the potential effect of any change in local police coverage. If change can cut costs while keeping Cold Spring just as safe, there is no shortage of capital projects that could benefit from funds shifted from the CSPD budget.

As always, there are options, and the new board will have at least three to consider: stick with the status quo, including current spending levels and 24-hour local policing; negotiate a deal with the Putnam County sheriff that may or may not save money while resulting in loss of local control; or borrow from what other villages have done and keep a CSPD but provide less than 24-hour coverage every day of the year. It should prove to be an interesting discussion and a significant test of the new board’s ability to work together.

Note: The cost of police protection per resident was calculated using total police spending divided by the municipality’s population as listed in the 2010 census.


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14 thoughts on “The Cost of Policing

  1. Thanks for the front page piece on Cold Spring police and the questions that our new mayor will confront.

    Coincidentally, I happen to be reading about August Vollmer, the father of modern policing; his philosophy and his innovations still remain supreme. He stressed — back in 1905 — that effective policing requires honest, resourceful and well-trained officers, who follow sensible deployment strategies, based on the particular needs of a community.

    I know of at least five people in Cold Spring with extensive experience in law enforcement — and there might well be others. I hope that Mayor Merandy calls on them to help him ask the right questions, based on best practices for small communities.

  2. Thanks to Mike Turton for another great piece — one that is very timely. A small correction – Cold Spring’s population in the 2010 census was 2,013.

    I think that the most important ratio to know is the proportion of village property taxes that go to cover the expense of policing (including police pensions). That ratio is 28%.

    One of the important statistics on policing that the Special Board for a Comprehensive Plan (of which I was chair for five years) was never able to obtain, or have reported, was the proportion of police calls that originated outside the Village. Presumably, with county services beefed up recently, and a county substation in Nelsonville, those calls are fewer in number. Nelsonville pays nothing for police, one reason why its per capita municipal taxes are so much lower than Cold Spring’s (this, by the way, is one of the main reasons why Nelsonville is unlikely to agree to merging with Cold Spring). Turton’s example of the Town of Rhinebeck reimbursing Rhinebeck Village for police services provided outside Rhinebeck Village’s bounds should provide food for thought to Cold Spring’s trustees.

    Millbrook’s hybrid approach seems to me to be something Cold Spring should carefully consider. This modest change would yield savings to the Village of roughly $120,000/year – savings that could be used to fund a bond covering $2.4 million in capital (infrastructure) spending.

    The Cold Spring Board should consider more than just the financial impact of Village police. Often overlooked is the enormous amount of time and attention the Trustees spend on police matters -– from personnel issues to replacing old cars -– time and attention that are desperately needed elsewhere (the aging and even dangerous infrastructure, for example).

  3. Great article Mike, congratulations! I’d like to add some information vis a vis Putnam Valley, which abolished its police department back in 1997 or thereabouts.

    Much like Cold Spring, prior to the abolishment our small town was covered by its own force, the State police and the Sheriff’s Department. Back in the day of our former chief, there was a tremendous turf war that went on for years with the chief insisting that all the patrols in town were his, including roads such as the Taconic, Route 301, etc. that were historically patrolled by either the Sheriff or the State troopers.

    To say that there was bad blood between the characters involved is an understatement and given all the turmoil and outright “civil war” that took place in town between the unions and their PD supporters vs. the ordinary, non-aligned residents, it’s truly a miracle that the sitting town board managed to accomplish the task.

    However, the cost of having our own department had gotten prohibitive and unsustainable, especially because there was little if any serious crime which was handled anyway by the troopers or the Sheriff.

    As it turned out, we did not have to pay anything extra to either the State or the county for the services that we were already paying for in our taxes, once the PVPD was abolished. What happened was that additional patrols were added to those we already had and things have worked out beautifully since that time.

    Contrary to what we were told by the cops and their supporters, our town was not taken over by drug dealers, armed robbers and assorted other criminals. If anything, crime has dropped and anything serious is taken care of quickly and efficiently by either the SD or the troopers who were always better equipped to deal with such things with their more than adequate resources.

    As far as Cold Spring- ultimately it will be up to the citizen/taxpayers to decide whether or not they can afford the luxury of their own department in light of all the other expenses that they are facing. I think it is important for them to have all the facts, finances and options put on the table so that they can make an informed decision when the time comes. As Mr. Armstrong points out, there are a lot of hidden costs that may not be so obvious at first glance. Michael’s article and the comments it inspired are good first steps in the process should there come a time when the option to disband or consolidate is on the table.

    • In a later comment, Patty Villanova points out that my use of the word “consolidation” to describe the County taking over some or all Cold Spring police services is misleading, since the County would simply do what it is already doing, and Cold Spring would simply pay less.

      I agree with Patty’s point. What triggered my own interest in the issue was the addition a couple of months ago of two full-time Sheriff’s Deputies to the Nelsonville substation. To my astonishment, this news seemed to provoke no interest on the part of the old Cold Spring board in reviewing how the Village provided its citizens with police services (that is changing, with the new board).

      Some of the language that I have heard recently, about a loss of control if the Village did not have its own police, seems to me to point to issues of trust, and perhaps confusion about whether the Village needs its own armed force to be a real Village. I think a robust discussion with the County could address the issue of trust. An honest, informed discussion of Cold Spring’s relatively high property taxes, which threaten the very soul of the Village by slowly crushing economic diversity, should answer the question of whether the Village needs its own police force so much that it is worth sacrificing its character to pay for it.

      • Responding to Michael Armstrong — another bit of information I forgot to include in my last comment is the fact that Philipstown, like Putnam Valley, does not have its own police department. Therefore, I imagine that with the exception of a reduced presence in Cold Spring because the Village has its own PD, the rest of Philipstown is currently getting its police services via the Sheriff and State Police.

        FYI, I am trying to find out how many Sheriff’s patrols per day are done in Philipstown but am having some trouble getting the information from the Sheriff’s Department. Maybe there’s a way you can find out from someone in the Town offices?

        I think that your discussions and analysis for Cold Spring should include the financial implications of the the existing patrols in Philipstown and how they affect the Village at the present time and if there was no CSPD. Also, I was quite surprised at your revelations about the Nelsonville substation and the additional deputies. All I can say is that the people of Cold Spring must be a lot wealthier than I imagined.

  4. As former member of the NYPD (retired), I would like to contribute to this discussion. A retired police officer (detective, sgt, etc) can only make $30,000 a year without a mandated waiver. Juxtaposed with the statement below, it is in error. They cannot receive a second pension.

    “I think that the most important ratio to know is the proportion of village property taxes that go to cover the expense of policing (including police pensions). That ratio is 28%.”

    Many of our officers have worked in the NYPD and because of this they provide value well beyond the dollar figure when accounting for experience it cannot be paralleled. The police services under the Putnam County Sheriff’s would be paying something for nothing. There is not enough deputies riding around as it is and as a result we as a village cannot communicate with them as Sir Robert Peel had suggested. The deputies travel about 20 mph with their windows up with no opportunity to offer discourse with the community they’re serving in.

    • I calculated the 28% — the share of our Village property taxes that go to policing – by adding the $369,553 for police and the $53,117 for Police & Firemen Retirement, and then dividing the sum ($422,670) by the total general fund budget for fiscal year 2014/2015 of $1,507,168. (The Firemen’s Service Award is paid for as a separate levy, and is excluded entirely from this calculation.) Although many folks may be rubbing their eyes when they read it, my claim that 28% of the village’s real property tax revenue goes to policing is not in error.

      I am told that seven of our 14 police officers do get retirement benefits, and apparently are not prohibited from doing so.

      The 15% figure quoted in the article seems to have included user fees from water and sewer, as well as real property taxes, in setting the baseline total spending.

      During his recent campaign for mayor, Barney Molloy stated that 23% of the village’s property taxes go to policing. If you subtract expenses for crossing guards, and leave out the retirement benefits, which are not unreasonable adjustments, you arrive at the 23% figure.

      But the important fact taxpayers need to understand is that roughly one in four of our village tax dollars goes to policing. Others pay less, and we may have an opportunity to redirect precious resources to repairing our aging dam, water and sewer system and getting a decent firehouse.

      I have great respect for the Cold Spring police, but in my experience they mostly stay in their vehicles, as do the Sheriff’s deputies. I also have great respect for the County police, and found it more than a little surprising to read in this post that their services — if the Village were to engage them — would amount to “nothing.” I don’t agree.

      • This is not a respect issue, as I too respect all law enforcement personnel. I only inferred that the supposed cost savings that you are stating to be accurate would be money better spent on Village PD as the PCSD is lacking the manpower to have dedicated service.

        I speak from experience having lived in Continental Village having to wait an hour for a deputy to respond to a service call. The Nelsonville substation is little more than a parking garage with no deputy assigned to desk duty. I do not necessarily disagree with you but I think the idea of seeing the CSPD on foot patrol performing their duty interacting with the public is a good thing. Now, what are your figures for privatizing the garbage collection or could it be privatized? What about consolidation of Fire Departments? Or eliminating for the perks of the boat club. Money can be found before we talk about this issue.

        • As newly elected trustee Fran Murphy said at the Candidates Forum several weeks ago, “There can be no sacred cows.” I agree there are other ways the village can cut costs or raise revenue, but none comes close to the potential of the police department.

          The Special Board studied garbage collection in 2008 and proposed ways of cutting costs that ran into the low tens of thousands of dollars annually; some of those, such as recycling, were later adopted by the Village. Fire Department consolidation was discussed a few years ago, with little support from the fire companies. Even the most optimistic proposals for the Boat Club site run to well under $100,000 per year net gain to the Village.

          That leaves the police department, an expense of over $400,000 per year. Would the Mayor and trustees — who seem to be sincere in their determination to face up to the Village’s challenges and critical, $10 million+ infrastructure needs — really be acting in good faith to ignore this question? With the County open to discussing ideas for consolidation, doesn’t our board have an obligation to seriously evaluate options for police services?

          • Michael, you have been making some excellent points about the police issue and certainly know more of the specifics of Cold Spring than I do. However, I would like to point something out, namely, that the issue of “consolidation” is sort of a red herring. Cold Spring and Philipstown are already paying a substantial amount in their property taxes for their share of the Sheriff’s Department and the State Police. Even though their use of these agencies is limited because of the local PD, it does not mean that the Village or Town can opt out of paying for them!

            If Cold Spring was to decide to get rid of their PD, the Sheriff and State police would have no choice but to pick up the slack and increase patrols, regardless of any kind of consolidation with the other towns and villages in the County; in fact it would be their obligation to do so. Any other costs that would be incurred because of the additional patrols would most likely be borne by the entire county as is the case with Put Valley.

            Also, what about the Sheriff’s substation that was supposed to open up in Nelsonville back in 2012? My understanding is that it should be up and running by now. Do you know if that’s the case, and if so, how is Cold Spring utilizing this resource?

  5. Regarding the ongoing debate about “quality of life” services rendered by the local PD versus what could be provided by the Sheriff or State Police, here’s a little sidebar illustrating the current state of affairs.

    Yesterday and today were the first real summer-like days we’ve had and the Village was packed with all kinds of traffic including cars, bikes and motorcycles, all competing with one another for parking and road space. One would think that on a weekend like this, there would perhaps be an officer on foot directing traffic or giving out parking tickets, but such was not the case.

    Even though parking is at a premium, there are more than several very inconsiderate business owners on Main Street, including one on my block, who insist on parking their cars all day in prime spaces in front of their shops, thus leaving no place for our potential customers who might not be able to walk a longer distance to have access. This travesty has been going on for many years — just ask the old timers — yet nothing is ever done to ticket the scofflaws, no matter how many complaints are made. Just yesterday I tried to flag down one of the patrol cars that was slowly driving up Main so I could point out to him one of the offending vehicles. As soon as we made eye contact, and he saw me pointing to the car, he looked the other way and drove off as if he never saw me.

    Also, yesterday, today and all summer long, we have to endure the incredibly loud and noisy motorcycles whose mufflers must all be broken or defective. We are not talking about an isolated incident or two; this goes on all day long from morning till night and the noise from these motorcyclists, most of whom are couples or groups, is not only ridiculously loud, but also, I believe might be illegal. Again, this is not the first weekend this is happening and it won’t be the last unless something is done by the PD to put a stop to it.

    No doubt many residents will consider this small potatoes, but is it really too much to ask of a hyper-local force that is supposed to be providing these premium services? I will never understand why taxpayers demand so little for their hard-earned money.

    • Enforcement of parking restrictions along Main Street is unlikely to improve until the Village installs parking meters. Meters are the one tool likely to be effective at discouraging business owners and their employees from parking in prime spaces on Main Street, and making those spaces available to customers.

      Some argue that muni-meters on Main Street will be an inconvenience for residents. This ignores the plain fact that the principle use of the Main street business district is business. Those businesses are hurt by poor customer access to parking close to shops. The Village should hire a parking enforcement officer, but only after meters have been installed. Past experience suggests that fines barely cover the wages of an officer marking tires to catch drivers in violation of parking limits. Enforcement would get much tougher, and fine-revenue would rise significantly, if spaces were metered.

      Ironically, a clear-headed assessment would probably conclude that the Village should have its own Parking Enforcement Officer, but rely on the County for most other law enforcement services. As things stand, we seem to have our priorities exactly backwards.

      • Michael, I think you are spot on. All anyone has to do is walk up and down Main Street on the weekend when the weather is nice. Judging from my own customers, who are mostly from NYC and Westchester, they are pretty surprised that there seems to be unlimited free parking. They are used to paying as much as a dollar an hour.

        • The almost compete lack of interest among so many in finding additional revenue sources or reducing costs seems to be rooted in ignorance of the urgent and expensive infrastructure projects facing the Village — certainly more than $10 million, and probably closer to $15 million.

          What strikes me, though, is the clear opportunity the Village has to pay for those projects, and more, without boosting property taxes, once the community takes the infrastructure challenges seriously. Parking meters would add about $200,000 net income annually. Reductions in local police spending could easily add $300,000. Boat Club rent could add $50,000 per year. The new developments coming in, better management of solid municipal waste collection, wiser use of the Village Garage site, and thoughtful consolidation of services with Nelsonville and Philipstown, could — together — add hundreds of thousands more. Using a rough rule of thumb that a dollar of new revenue (or cost savings) will support $20 in bonding to cover capital projects, a fresh half million in annual revenue (or savings) would cover $10 million in capital improvement; $750,000 would cover $15 million.

          The discussion of police services is an important early test of whether this Village Board — and the community — understands what must be done, and that fortune has given us the means to do it.