Law enforcement panel makes first report
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Though a formal written report is due soon, members of the Law Enforcement Review Panel gave legislators a brief rundown of recommendations last week.
Created ostensibly to find cost efficiencies within the local law enforcement community primarily in the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, 911 Center, and agencies with which the county has a contract the panel was controversial from the start.
And disagreement even permeated the panel.
“Things you hear today are not unanimously favorable with everyone [on the panel],” member and former Fallsburg Police Chief Brent Lawrence informed legislators, “which probably made it good.”
Meeting weekly since August, Lawrence said the panel decided early on not to micromanage county departments but to search for potential savings.
The panel’s initial recommendations focused on the Sheriff’s Office, particularly its patrol division, where Lawrence said “the most discretionary spending” was identified.
“We found a significant amount of overtime was spent for security at Bethel Woods, Sullivan County Community College, and [Delaware] river patrol,” he explained.
Some of that overtime i.e., at Bethel Woods is paid for entirely by the county, as are the resultingly higher pension costs down the road, said Lawrence.
The panel recommended the county “redistribute” the overtime more equitably amongst deputies with lower salaries (and thus lower overtime costs), reinstitute eight-hour shifts instead of 12-hours, and have Bethel Woods reimburse the county for patrol costs.
Sheriff Michael Schiff argued that it’s not that easy.
“There are contractual issues with the overtime,” he informed legislators, speaking of union seniority rules. “And we went with 12-hour days because that stretches the manpower.”
He added that the State Police is the primary law enforcement presence at smaller Bethel Woods events but that Sheriff’s deputies are always at larger concerts not to protect concertgoers, he said, but the general public.
“It’s irresponsible not to be there,” he insisted.
Schiff said he had no issue with the county requesting reimbursement, but he would not condition his officers’ response on whether or not Bethel Woods pays.
The sheriff indicated he’ll have a formal response when the panel releases its official report (due by the end of the year).
The panel also made other recommendations unrelated to the Sheriff’s Office, including cutting the “top-heavy on administration” $450,000 budget of Conflict Legal Aid and extending its contract for 90 days to explore rebidding opportunities (both of which legislators subsequently did).
“Clearly the Conflict [Legal Aid] has use, and the lawyers do a good job,” remarked panel member and former District Attorney Steve Lungen, “... but [the cost] is way out of whack.”
Lawrence said the panel opted not to investigate equipment purchases but did recommend agencies explore sharing equipment where practical.
Legislator Cora Edwards, who first advanced the panel idea, thanked the members for their efforts and announced her intention to have the panel meet monthly throughout 2013.