Department reports offer few details
By Michael Turton
Policing Cold Spring will cost village taxpayers $418,890 in fiscal year 2016-17. The fact that the Cold Spring Police Department (CSPD) accounts for more than 20 percent of village spending was raised as an issue during the March election campaign and was brought up again at the public hearing on next year’s budget held earlier this month. CSPD operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week with one officer on duty at all times. Additional officers are occasionally used during special events. The force currently includes 14 part-time officers, a practice that is less costly to the village because part-time employees receive no benefits.
Given the presence of Putnam County Sheriff’s Deputies, New York State Troopers and Metro-North officers in the village, some residents have questioned whether Cold Spring requires its own force. Putnam County Sheriff Donald Smith routinely describes the county as the safest in New York.
Each week Cold Spring officers …
- Respond to 18 “calls for service”
- Write 14 parking tickets
- Write 11 tickets for moving violations
Averages based on 17 reports provided to the Village Board since July 2014.
To get a better idea of the responsibilities of Cold Spring’s officers, The Current examined CSPD activity reports submitted over the past two years to the Village Board by Officer-in-Charge George Kane, who has been with the Cold Spring force for 10 years.
The reports do not provide a great amount of detail. Compiled monthly, they include the number of “calls for service” and parking and moving violation tickets issued. Calls to the department could cover a wide range of situations, from loud arguments or music, disabled vehicles and cars blocking driveways to more serious situations such as burglaries, assaults and fires.
Reports were not submitted to the board for five of the 24 months examined. Calls for service were omitted from two reports and the number of moving violations was missing from one. Two reports provided the total for two months rather than one.
Despite the inconsistencies, the data provides a snapshot of police activity in the village. During the 19 months reported over the past two years, 1,311 calls were taken and 1,088 parking tickets and 748 summonses for moving violations were issued. That works out to a monthly average of 77 calls for service (2.5 calls per day), 57 parking tickets per month (about two per day) and 41.5 moving violations (about 1.5 per day). Moving violations were given consistently through the year, while parking tickets and calls for service rose in the spring and summer.
In the past, CSPD’s monthly reports included a detailed breakdown of calls for service, parking tickets and moving violations. That practice ended in January 2014. Current reports provide only monthly totals. It also is not apparent from the reports whether most of the activity takes place during the day or overnight.
Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy declined to comment on the CSPD reports but said policing would be discussed at the next meeting of the village board, which is scheduled for Tuesday, April 26.
1. The nature of each “call for service” is not specified in the department’s reports to the Village Board.
2. DNP = did not report
3. The department said no data was collected.
4. The report to the board included the total for this and the previous month; the totals given here were divided equally between the months.
The activity reports of the police should include the origin of the call — that is, the location from which someone sought assistance, as well as the time, date and purpose of the call. The activity level then needs to be weighed in light of policing standards, shift by shift. This is because it may be possible to trim coverage on some shifts where there are very few calls. Again, Nelsonville and Philipstown rely on County and State police services, 24/7, and Cold Spring actually receives the same level of service from the County and State as those jurisdictions. Having a local police force simply adds an additional layer to what others find to be quite satisfactory service.
I realize there are those who will say that it is none of the community’s business to know the basic statistics of police activity, such as the time, purpose, and location of calls. To me, the curtailment of reported activity data a few years ago, when more was requested, should be a wake up call to push back — to scrutinize these expenses much more closely. When was the last time Officer in Charge Kane appeared before the board to answer questions? A professional, community-oriented police force, such as the one we all believe serves Cold Spring, should welcome opportunities to regularly engage with the public on issues of concern.
We taxpayers are paying these salaries. Don’t we have a right to know how the money is being spent?
Michael, as to how many times the Officer-in-Charge has appeared before the Village Board in the past two years, speaking as a former trustee, the answer is zero. There were numerous requests by Trustee Fadde and I to have the OIC report to the Board but they were always denied.
Also, what isn’t included in the breakdown within the article are the amount of legal expenses that have been incurred by the Village regarding the police department, whether it be negotiating contracts, defending the conduct of specific officers or defending against lawsuits. Much of these issues are not in the public domain, per say, as they were the subject of executive sessions that prevent I, or any other Village official from disclosing specifics of any case, other than that they indeed exist. They may or may not be subject to FOIA. Regardless, from year to year I am sure it was a rather sizable portion of the legal budget.
I cannot agree more with your sentiments on this issue. At a time when salaries and benefits are being scrutinized for our handful of full-time employees, the same level of scrutiny needs to occur for the 16 part-time employees of the Village (there may only be 14 now, but the “full” hire out would include 16).
Keep up the good work!
Michael Bowman brings up important issues regarding the Village police that I had not considered, and of which I was not aware until he pointed them out. There are significant risks and potential expenses for the village to continue operating the way we do. What are these hidden costs — legal expenses and insurance?
More importantly, while I had a vague impression that the trustees seemed to be spending a lot of time on police personnel matters (discipline, contracts, etc), I had no idea what a distraction they have become from the Village’s real business. In business, these are known as opportunity costs — and smart management does everything it can to unload these kinds of distractions so the operation can focus on what is important.
The closer I look, and the more thought I give to village policing, the more worried I get. Why do so few in the village seem to share those concerns? What am I missing that would make me feel better about Village policing?
Michael, you have been a voice of sanity and reason when it comes to this issue. I can tell you firsthand about our experience in Put Valley where we had a virtual Civil War during the time we decided to abolish our townwide force. Ultimately, our community came together and it was one of the best, most cost-effective things we ever did. By the way, the population of the town was around 10,000 compared to the Village which I think is around 2,000 or so.
I will never understand how the taxpayers are not questioning this huge expense, especially when the Town of Philipstown does not have its own force and relies on the Sheriff and State Police, who are more than adequate. Not to mention that there is a Sheriff’s substation up in Nelsonville. They are paying for three separate PDs for what?
Does anyone really believe that Cold Spring is so crime-ridden that it needs its own police department? There is not one service that is currently performed by the CSPD than cannot be handled as well or better by the other two departments.
Oh well, if you guys and gals want to have your own private police force and can afford it, who am I to say you’re wasting your money?
The numbers on Village police costs so strongly favor reassessment, it is vital that those who support continuing those services find the courage to make their case to the community. I have heard two arguments that should be debated openly.
The first is that having a village police force provides “local control.” Superficially, this seems plausible, right? The village has special needs, such as mobs of tourists on weekends, parades, drug use concerns at Haldane, a population with many frail, elderly people. The village elects a mayor and trustees to oversee the police force to take care that those special needs are met.
But what does “local control” actually mean? It means that the village government has a direct say in the activities of the police. But if the village were served solely by the Sheriff’s police (county) and state police, does anyone think that the village would not have substantial indirect influence on the activities of those forces? How bad would that be? Would that really compare unfavorably, in any material way, to the haphazard effectiveness of “direct control” as we see it today? Think carefully about the controversies of the past 10 years — of parking enforcement, police discipline (remember cop-on-cop vandalism?), the refusal to report regularly to the board of trustees. Is “local control” all it’s cracked up to be? Be honest!
Second, I hear that it is part of the village’s identity to have its own police force. What makes the village special, to me, however, is not the fact that it has its own police force, but that it is an economically diverse community with exceptionally strong neighborhoods, strong families, and commitment to the environment and its own special history. The $400,000 we spend each year on police could be used to repay 20-year bonds on about $8 million in infrastructure improvements. That is not going to cover everything, but it will go a long way toward meeting the village’s needs. And it would do that without jacking property taxes and water fees so high young families and blue-collar workers can no longer afford to live here. Do we really want to risk the character of our village — its true identity — by squandering precious tax dollars on a redundant police force?
Most crimes in the village occur between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. I know because my truck and others were tossed one night. But due to observation by Highway Department employees doing garbage, the perps were caught and transported to the Hotel Weiznecker in Carmel. Cold Spring is safe as it is because we have 24-hour police patrol and the troublemakers know it. Cold Spring Village taxes are the best bargain in New York State for the services received.
Mr. Valentine’s claim that “most crimes in the village occur between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.” has no other basis than the fact that his truck was “tossed” one night. He presents no statistics, no other facts, just this scrap of anecdotal evidence. What would we think of a tourist in Cold Spring claiming that most crimes in the village occur on the weekends in broad daylight, based on her purse being snatched on a Saturday afternoon? Most of us would say, “Well, maybe, but we’ll have to look at the police reports first.”
And this is part of the problem. Our police are not properly reporting calls to the village authorities, so we are all in the dark about the patterns of crime and other calls for assistance.
The second claim, that Cold Spring is safe because it has 24/7 police coverage, has two weaknesses. First, it disregards the fact that the state and county already provide 24/7 coverage to the village, and a much larger force of trained officers, than the one-person coverage provided by the Cold Spring force. If there were an incident, say, with a shooter in the village late at night, does anyone think the single local officer would handle it alone? Of course not!
Second, the overall low crime rate in the village is almost certainly due to the economic health of the community — which gives us strong, stable families and a vital neighborhood life. Where those are missing, crime rises. Accepting an enormous tax burden — over $400,000 per year! — to pay for “local control” or some illusion that this is what keeps us safe, is more likely a factor in weakening our economic health and making us more vulnerable, not less, to crime.
I’m generally in favor of changing the way policing works for the reasons explained above, but the thing that stands out for me in the report is the incredibly low number of moving violations. Just one example: If you walk kids to school you’ll see cars completely ignoring state law. They drive through the crosswalk, speed through the school zone, and run red lights. This happens every day, and these are not only commuters passing through. One wonders where the balance of increased revenue and improved safety and livability would land should our local PD start enforcing traffic laws.
Maybe these concerns haven’t been made clearly to the PD, although they do come up publicly from time to time. While the safety concerns above are about rare crime and hypothetical situations, how could we impress on the county or state (not to mention our local PD) that there are actual violations affecting safety and well-being occurring constantly and that better enforcement is needed, not only less expensive enforcement?
The shortest path to improved enforcement of traffic laws would be to simplify and clarify the lines of responsibility by eliminating the village police altogether. If the community made traffic enforcement solely the responsibility of the County and the State, offenses would be tracked with greater fidelity, we would enjoy better oversight of the force, and we would be assured of responsive enforcement of the traffic laws.
A side benefit would be $400,000 in annual savings.
Here are a few questions that I believe would need to be brought up if the village were to abolish the Police Department.
1. Would the Sheriff’s Department give the village it own patrol or would we be absorbed by the Philipstown patrol? Right now one car covers all of the Town of Philipstown. What happens if the car is in Continental Village or backing up the Putnam Valley car and there is a serious emergency here? How long is it okay to wait for help?
2. Who would enforce our parking regulations? The Sheriff’s Department? Or would the Village have to resurrect its Parking Enforcement Officer?
3. Has anyone looked into what the cost would be for our own patrol from the Sheriff’s Department? We cannot assume that we will just get this for free.
While it has been pointed out how Putnam Valley no longer has its own Police Department, maybe there should be some research done on an area that had it own force, got rid of it and subsequently had to reform it due to the fact that the cost and services that they were receiving did not add up. That’s what happened in the Village of Brewster.
Lillian Moser asks good questions that the Village should make it a priority to answer, given the potential for improved service and reduced expense. I would add the following
1) Are there any legal impediments — in the Village’s contract with the PBA, or otherwise — that would prevent, delay, or add expense to the dissolution of the Village police force?
2) What is the value of the police vehicles and other equipment owned by the village?
3) What are the legal expenses incurred over the past five years tied to village policing, including contract negotiations, personnel issues, and lawsuits?
4) What is the staffing of the Nelsonville Sheriff’s station, and what are the future plans for it?
5) What activity reports could the Village trustees expect from the County?
6) How would revenue from fines be allocated if the Village no longer has its own force?
7) Should the Village continue to hire its own crossing guards, and should it have parking enforcement officers? How much would they cost?
It is past time for the Village Board to ask the hard questions about options for policing, to find out the experiences of other communities, and to educate residents and business owners on this important issue.
The Village, I believe, would need to retain the crossing guards. They are the responsibility of the municipality, not the school district. I am a crossing guard for Garrison School but I am paid by the Town of Philipstown.
I agree that the crossing guards should be retained, but the review of services should include them (Are more needed in the Village? Should the expense be shared with the school districts?), and it should include police services for events like parades. As to adding a parking enforcement officer, this should be looked into, but I think the village should first install parking meters on Main Street. The national experience of parking enforcement through tire marking is that it doesn’t work well. Meters provide a record that makes ticketing enforceable. Meters would allow the Village to improve enforcement while easily covering its cost.
Excellent thread, thank you Highlands Current for bringing this issue up again. I agree with Mr. Armstrong emphatically. This issue needs immediate study and attention at the Village Board level, so that a pros-and-cons evaluation can be made and presented to the public for input. I would like to to see this issue on a referendum in our next Village election.
What makes you say there is only one car covering all of Philipstown? As far as I know there is 24/7 coverage by the Sheriff and that includes the substation up the street in Nelsonville. There is also coverage by the State Police, but I’m not sure how much.
Should the residents decide to abolish their PD you can expect all hell to break loose. The PBA and other supporters are not going to go lightly into that dark night, if you get my drift. I am not sure of the legal process for the Village to abolish but it may be possible to do it by a simple majority vote of the board. I’m sure the attorney would know.
We need the Cold Spring Board of Trustees to clarify the legal options for the village, and to set in motion a process that will credibly inform stakeholders of the facts. I suggest that a committee be established to sort fact from fiction, one with standing to meet with County and State authorities and other agencies (such as Metro-North), a committee that can develop, publicly debate and present recommendations to the board of trustees on the best way forward with police services.
This is a big, complicated issue, so long neglected who knows what opportunities lie hidden, just waiting for a little decisive action.
Michael, the people of Cold Spring are lucky to have you as their advocate. Please know that if the Village should decide to abolish their PD, they would not be the first in NY State to do so. When the PV town board first decided to try and abolish the Department, they were sued by the police chief, the PVPBA and assorted other people who claimed it was illegal to get rid of the PD. The town spent a considerable amount on attorneys and court fees but in the end, the savings amounted to millions of dollars. I have no doubt that if our former PD was still in existence, our town would be on the verge of bankruptcy they way they were going. Good luck and I really hope that my Cold Spring neighbors will take a good look at this issue and realize that not only will they be getting better service, but it will cost them a lot less.