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Villages must think outside the box to hold onto local police departments

One of the biggest assets Wayne County villages boast, their police departments, are in jeopardy.

Village officials from across Wayne County came together last Monday, March 20th for their monthly meeting to discuss the pros and cons of community policing. While the idea of a local police department is a huge asset for a village, officials are not blind to the fact that it is also the biggest expense. And despite local policing having its advantages, village officials also know that their local police departments are inevitably going away.

“When it comes to constituents, you have to talk dollars and sense,” said Trustee Al Schober of Newark – the only village in the county with a police department in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Clyde Mayor Jerry Fremouw introduced Jeff Shields, a 29-year veteran to policing in Wayne County, including the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office and Lyons Police Department. Shields is now retired and working as the officer in charge with the Clyde Police Department, a part-time force consisting of nine part-time officers, three patrol vehicles with 150 patrol hours available each week to stay ahead of crime.

“Policing has changed in the 30 years I’ve been in Wayne County,” the veteran officer said. “There’s really no way to get the intimate knowledge … to know the aunt and uncle, the grandmother and grandfather.”

As a part time department, the only benefit the Clyde Police Department pays is retirement. Their budget is $215,000 annually.

Local policing is more proactive through the building of relationships in the community, Shields explained.  His officers rattle doors at local businesses late at night, he expects them to stop and help someone on the side of the road, even is it’s loading a lawnmower onto a truck, he expects them to sit and have coffee and talk to community members, and he expects them to stop by at least one business each shift to see what business needs from the department. He also has an officer at the schools four days a week.

The community comes to local officers and tells them things because there’s a familiarity and trust. That intimate knowledge is harder for county officers to obtain.

Shields said county policing is reactive, responding to burglaries in progress, investigating crimes, assisting at accident scenes – when tragedy has already struck. As larger agencies, the sheriff’s department and state police have assets and special units, such as K-9 patrols, that local departments can use when necessary without the added expense – something Shields strongly urges local agencies to take advantage of. And while the county sheriff and local New York state police patrols do an excellent job, they are generally spread too thin to have the time to form personal bonds with local community members.

“It’s watered down to cover a larger area,” he explained. “I’d much rather be proactive than reactive.”

 

Shields provided hand outs and discussed response times – local police agencies having faster response times due to proximity.  He also offered other data village officials could peruse of comparisons between local and county policing agencies and of local efforts in his department.

It is inevitable that local policing will fade away, Shields said, but villages can start cutting back in their departments to save on costs, but they need to work with the county to make up for those cuts. To keep local departments around as long as possible, Shields said village officials must start thinking outside of the box to save money.

“Reduce, but make sure you’re being efficient,” he added.

Once local police agencies begin to vanish, the county will have to add more officers to cover the county, Shields added. That costs money and that will raise county taxes, he said. The best strategy, when the villages are ready, the veteran officer said, will be for all the villages to come together, start reducing in their departments, and then go to the sheriff’s office to seek help with coverage.

In the meantime, local residents who want to keep their police department for as long as possible should give them their support, Shields said, and be loud about it.

-Tammy Whitacre, fingerlakes1.com

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