Letter: The Cost of Policing

Looking Back in Philipstown in the Jan. 14 issue included two interesting tidbits from January 1972: “The teen center on Main Street was closed indefinitely” and “Cold Spring, for the first time, had 24-hour police protection.”

We don’t know whether the cost of 24-hour policing consumed funds that could have kept the teen center open. But we know that village policing costs Cold Spring more than $500,000 a year, and the cost is about to grow.

Since 1972, violent and property crimes have fallen nationwide, a sheriff substation opened in Nelsonville and there are more services to help the mentally ill. Crimes more serious than vandalism are rare in the village. Yet the police wield great influence over Village Hall, and at their urging, the trustees are poised to approve the installation of more surveillance cameras in public areas and the purchase of bodycams for officers. These measures will cost taxpayers $50,000 in the first year and $10,000 every year after.

The Village Board’s thinking on policing is formed by a one-sided stream of information. The trustees regularly hear from the police about the threat of crime. But because of an absence of public awareness, the trustees seldom hear the other side: the quality-of-life investments (such as tree plantings) that must be sacrificed to pay for cameras and continuous policing in general, the replacement of trust by suspicion, the intimidating effect of constant patrols on minority groups and the lack of evidence justifying the expense of high policing in a low-crime setting.

When the mentality of safety-ism takes hold, each new enforcement power is an argument for the next one. Gradually the community is defined by fear and defense instead of creativity and growth. If this trend concerns you, speak out on the record by writing to the Village Board or commenting at meetings.

Eliza Starbuck, Cold Spring
Starbuck is a Cold Spring village trustee.

9 thoughts on “Letter: The Cost of Policing

  1. In 2017, Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress did a study that looked at the cost of policing in Beacon, the Town of Fishkill and the Village of Fishkill. Just like Fishkill, Cold Spring is small village where crime is low. Its expenditures seem generally in line with ours ($583,822 in 2017, for a population of 2,127 people, or $274 per capita; versus $387,500 in 2017 in Cold Spring, a population of 1,834 people, or $211 per capita).

    That could mean there is pressure by police everywhere or that costs keep going up. It’s a real issue, especially when the cost of living is out of hand.

  2. The amount of people moving up the line on the train would amaze you. We’re adding a walkway to and from Beacon that can’t possibly be policed without the Cold Spring Police Department on our end. We have a Village Board that believes the dock is safe enough without lighting at night; wait until it gets 10 degrees or so warmer.

    The village is going to experience quite a bit under a clueless administration when it comes to safety and infrastructure. It’s already happening: Getting rid of this and that and raising the salaries of the mayor and trustees are right around the bend. [via Facebook]

  3. If the people in Cold Spring feel so unsafe, they may need to hire a fourth police agency of some sort, besides the village, county and state police. Maybe private security guards for the most crime-ridden parts of the village? [via Facebook]

  4. Many of the comments about Starbuck’s letter make me wonder if they actually read it. Nowhere does she say, “Defund the police.” Nowhere does she say the police aren’t needed. What I read is: We are a low-crime area but have 24-hour policing. We spend this much on policing, did you know that? We are about to invest even more with cameras, and all input on these expenditures comes from the Police Department. If you want to weigh in on this issue, please attend meetings or write to the board. P.S. I am happy we have a police department and happy to pay for it. [via Facebook]

    • What I got reading it was that the board is swaying toward not spending any more money on the police, the rising costs of policing, or their equipment like cameras, etc. Her language is clearly stating the budget is too much and that the board should look at cutting back, aka “defund.” The undertone is clear, with the town being probably 80 percent progressives; we can clearly see where that is headed. You can isolate all the points you like, but we both know what this is about. [via Facebook]

  5. Starbuck’s letter made me wonder how the Village of Cold Spring compares to New York City. A few facts might enlighten this discussion:

    ■ Cold Spring has twice as many police officers and twice as many police vehicles per capita.
    ■ The village police budget is 17 percent of the total; the New York City police budget is 5.5 percent.
    ■ New York City police handle 160,000 major crimes a year. When an assault occurred on my property two years ago, it was immediately turned it over to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department. Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke explained to me that the village police do not have the capacity, experience or expertise to handle major crimes.
    ■ Pre-COVID, the village police issued about 1,000 parking tickets a year. Given a roughly $500,000 annual police budget, each ticket issued costs Cold Spring taxpayers about $500.
    ■ Pre-COVID data provided by Burke showed that parking enforcement officers issue about 15 times more tickets per hour worked than police officers, and the police officers are paid about three times as much per hour. Simple math suggests that parking enforcement officers are 45 times more cost-effective addressing parking issues.

    At its March 16 meeting, the Village Board discussed how to hide the cost of the police body cameras in the fund balance and use a five-year payment plan so it doesn’t look like we will spend $50,000 (or roughly 10 percent of the police budget) on cameras.

    The facts beg the question: Do we need twice as many police officers per capita as New York City, is the Village Board being fiscally responsible with our tax money?

  6. My letter on the cost of policing in Cold Spring prompted responses that I’d like to address. (In that letter and this one, I speak only for myself and not for any other village trustee.) Village property taxes pay for many vital services, most of which are underfunded. In the draft budget for 2022–23, totaling nearly $2.9 million, policing absorbs about $500,000, despite a scarcity of serious crime. According to the village’s memorandum of March 23, 2021, on the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, our officers’ top tasks involve parking violations, calls for service that are mostly requests to aid in emergencies outside the village, traffic violations and false alarms.

    Cold Spring’s taxpayers lose out in two ways: (1) we receive no compensation for the many requests to aid responders in other jurisdictions, and (2) despite having our own police, we still pay county taxes to help fund the sheriff’s department, which can respond to any emergency in the village and is better equipped than the Cold Spring Police Department. Cold Spring taxpayers fund two local police forces, one of which it lends out for free and the other of which it fails to use fully.

    To rectify this, the village should start now with the budget. We should base the CSPD’s 2022–23 allocation on recent actual expenditures (such as the $380,000 spent in 2020–21), without an exaggerated cushion. Second, the village could ask Philipstown and Nelsonville to pay for the services that the CSPD provides in their jurisdictions, as they do for the Cold Spring Fire Co.’s services.

    Alternatively, the village could limit our officers’ duties to the boundaries of the village. We could also limit their duties to daytime hours and rely on the Sheriff’s Department to handle overnight calls and patrols. Finally, we should ask the Community Stakeholders Police Review Group to work with the officer-in-charge to design monthly reporting that gives clearer data on when, where, and how officers are needed. Requests from the police for more patrols or equipment could be evaluated against this data. Through steps like these, we can preserve safety while freeing up savings to plow into, say, our unsound dams.

    • I agree with Eliza Starbuck’s suggestion that monthly police reports include how many of the calls to which Cold Spring police respond are coming from Nelsonville and Philipstown. The idea that jurisdictions that themselves offer no police services get free services on demand, 24/7, from one that spends $500,000 every year makes you wonder why this is called “mutual” aid.

      If Cold Spring is required to provide mutual aid to these adjacent jurisdictions, Cold Spring should be fully reimbursed for those services. The Cold Spring police should identify in the monthly report not only the number of such mutual-aid incidents, but the fully allocated cost to the village, and submit for trustee approval the invoices to be sent to Nelsonville and Philipstown.

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