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Aug 10, 2013 4:54 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sagaponack Village Board To Vote On Pursuing Separate Police Force On Monday

Aug 14, 2013 10:50 AM

Sagaponack Village Mayor Don Louchheim says he will ask his fellow Village Board members to decide next week whether or not the village should proceed with plans to form its own police department.

In the wake of a meeting on Saturday attended by dozens of village residents who expressed a mix of support for and objections to the village creating its own police force, Mr. Louchheim said that the board needs to make a decision about how it will proceed, quickly. He said that Southampton Town officials had taken no steps to present the village with any alternate police coverage proposals that might head off such a move—something village officials were hoping for.

“I will ask for a vote from the board next week on whether we should proceed with planning for our own department—not committing to do it, but planning for it—or to punt,” Mr. Louchheim told the four other board members on Monday afternoon, during a discussion of the previous Saturday’s meeting with village residents. The next Village Board meeting is Monday, August 19—and the mayor added, “Monday will be D-Day.”

Mr. Louchheim also proposed that the village hire former Southampton Town Police Chief William Wilson Jr. as a consultant to draft a detailed budget for the formation of a village police department, so that the Village Board would have specific numbers to apply to its deliberations leading to Monday’s decision. But Village Trustee Lee Foster, the deputy mayor, objected to the hiring, which Mr. Louchheim proposed at $2,000, and asked that the issue also be put off until the following week.

Additionally, Mr. Louchheim nodded to the possibility that if the Village Board decides to proceed with drafting more detailed plans for its own police force, the issue could be brought to village residents for approval at a referendum in the coming months—a step that several people called for at Saturday’s meeting. At the meeting, Mr. Louchheim had said, however, that a simple majority of support for the formation of a police department was not enough to justify it. He said the Village Board wanted to see that there was broad support for the idea before it would proceed.

Broad support was not evident at Saturday’s meeting, attended by several dozen residents of the tiny eight-year-old village, though neither was there a consensus of opposition. On Monday, the mayor recounted that there appeared to be three trains of thought among those who voiced their opinions at the meeting. There were those who believed that additional police coverage was not needed and would only be an inconvenience to residents, in the form of more traffic tickets. Others were opposed to forming a village police department, largely because of concerns about expanding bureaucracy, but were open to pursuing better coverage, or lowered costs, from the village’s coverage agreement with the Southampton Town Police Department. And still others firmly supported the formation of a village police force, for reasons of financial savings and better police protection.

And, indeed, many in the crowd seemed to vacillate between two or more of those positions during the two-hour discussion. Applause alternately resounded for speakers who raised libertarian objections to the idea of the village, which was formed in 2005 with pledges that it would remain “bare bones,” now forming a police department and hiring a chief with a six-figure salary, and those who made logistical arguments for the economic sense of forming a small department and freeing the village from the $2.3 million in annual taxes it pays to the town for minimal police coverage. The most strident objections largely focused on the concern that forming a police department, while possibly saving village residents on their tax bills at first, would lead to continually growing costs and expanding bureaucracy.

“There are a lot of things that crop up in a budget that you can’t plan for,” resident Robert Kall, a retired police officer, said to the board. “You’re talking about budgeting for five officers—what if one of them gets hurt and is out for six months? Then what? Then you have to budget for six.”

The Village Board has been discussing the idea of a forming its own police department for more than two years. Village officials have said that the hefty amount Sagaponack residents pay in property taxes to Southampton Town does not justify the minimal coverage they receive, even after the town began stationing an officer in the village on summer days. For most of the time, the Village Board has noted, Sagaponack is part of a large sector stretching from Water Mill to the East Hampton Town line that is patrolled by a single vehicle.

Village officials have said that the town has been unwilling to work with them, or to support proposed state legislation that would allow a renegotiating of the village’s tax contribution for police, or an increase in patrolling. The village has no power to negotiate either point as it stands, but forming a department would open up opportunities for negotiation.

Forming a village department would require a minimum of two officers and a department chief, and lawmakers have projected that the officers could be called upon only to cover one daytime shift, perhaps even only in the high season. But the village could then negotiate for additional coverage with other departments, or with Southampton Town, from a new bargaining position, at a rate well below what they pay Southampton now. Board members have said estimates show they could save between $750,000 and $1 million a year through such an arrangement and get more dedicated coverage for their money.

The $2.3 million paid by Sagaponack accounts for nearly 10 percent of the Southampton Town Police Department’s annual budget. Department brass have said they are already down eight officers from the staffing levels they would like to have to provide ample police protection to the entire town, due to stringent budgeting by the Town Board. Losing the Sagaponack tax revenue could require layoffs of several more officers.

Some residents at Saturday’s meeting acknowledged that the largely crime-free village probably does not need a more comprehensive blanket of police protection, but saw a bottom line that pointed most sensibly to the formation of a village police department.

“We are paying $2.3 million, and we are not getting the service, so the best thing to do would be to reduce our costs,” resident Elliot Meisel said. “As it is, we may be over-policed. But with Southampton, we’re stuck with a $2.3 million budget, and we’re forced to increase police services. The way to get what we really need ... is with our own police force.”

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It costs big bucks to create a police department. What are they going to do about lodging prisoners, detective services for major crimes, vehicles, dispatching etc? Minimum staffing requirements would call for a chief and at least 6 patrol personnel. Where is their HQ going to be located? In an addition attached to Village Hall?

If Sagaponack has the money, creating it's village police force is the way to go for response time, etc. I would estimate you are looking at an budget cost of ...more
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Aug 10, 13 8:11 PM
1 member liked this comment
I believe Suffolk County provides detective services for major crimes now (homicide, etc..). I think they may be required by law--at no cost to the Town.
The tiny village of Westhampton Dunes has their own constables. Believe me--barreling down Dune Rd. you hit the brakes when you hit the village border--even in mid winter when its deserted. You don't dare go over 25 MPH in the village.
By aging hipster (201), Southampton on Aug 11, 13 6:31 AM
It IS at a cost to the towns and villages, all of whom pay a property tax to the SCPD general fund for units like arson, homicide, Medevac, etc.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Aug 11, 13 10:55 AM
1 member liked this comment
I understand why Sagaponack feels short changed in terms of coverage. But to create their own department? I can't imagine the residents thinking it's a good idea. Sounds like a soap opera in the making causing more of a disturbance than keeping the peace. The unforeseen issues that may arise are countless and would far outweigh the benefits. Just look at Sag Harbor. There is an undeniable cloud hanging over that village. As for the Town Board proposing an offer.... this is a ground ball. Give ...more
By Elliver (20), southampton on Aug 11, 13 11:46 AM
Should Sagaponack create a village p.d., it should make the post of police chief elective. That will assure that the p.d. is answerable to the residents and not vice-versa. Appointive chiefs, whose well-being is determined exclusively by their satisfaction of local pols, regard the wishes of the politically unconnected as a distraction.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Aug 11, 13 12:47 PM
That's right, then we'll have the Chief going door to door asking for signatures on his petitions. To save trouble he can give them a get out of jail free card at the same time.
Why don't you move into the village and show them how it should be done? Or better yet, bring your Nepalese gurkas and elephants to the next village meeting.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Aug 11, 13 5:53 PM
1 member liked this comment
I have never heard of an elected police Chief in NY. The Sheriff is elected. Mr. Blank made a great point.
By Sagdays (23), Southampton on Aug 11, 13 9:20 PM
to Sagdays:

Nor have I, although I was unable to find a legal prohibition, and, and you noted, the Suffolk County Sheriff is elected. (Chiefs ARE elected in other states [as are sheriffs uniformly] and the practice is uncontroversial.)

Making the position of chief of police an elected office would lessen the likelihood that the Sagaponack P.D. would transform into a morass of patronage and corruption as has another local department. Of course, there IS a danger that the residents ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Aug 12, 13 12:22 AM
School Boards and Fire Commissioners are elected, yet they have no problem throwing tax dollars away to ensure their re-election. Combined, they outspend police budgets by quite a bit. I don't agree with your opinion often, but I never considered it naive until this post.
By lucky and aware (44), Speonk on Aug 12, 13 1:11 AM
to lucky and aware:

Your post is inane. A chief of police's profligacy has nothing to do with his being elected or appointed. In either case, his power to spend money is controlled by the oversight of elected officials who control the budget. In the case of a school board member or a fire commissioner, a penchant for "throwing [around] tax dollars" might get a candidate elected by the narrow class of voters who participate in their elections but it would dissuade the electorate generally ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Aug 12, 13 1:03 PM
"thousands of jurisdictions across the United States" Yes, but not in NY and I would surmise that they are all Sheriffs. In the state of NY for a village, the title would be Chief of Police, which is a civil service rank. As for a partisan politician holding reins on an appointed Chief, it is the villge, hat, and only minor parties come into play, and for the most part, in one year and out the next.

Tell us, please, how did you make out with you missive to the Attorney General? Did he ...more
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Aug 12, 13 5:41 PM
to But I'm a blank!:

My correspondence with the AG is private but he is always grateful to receive reports of police misconduct condoned by local law enforcement and civilian authority (in case you want to forward him one.)

In towns that have a perennial majority of one party (for instance, the Republicans) on the town board, political patronage in the p.d. becomes pervasive (and, occasionally, the topic of scandalous newspaper articles.)
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Aug 13, 13 12:52 AM
So you got a form letter from the AG saying "Thank you for your concern, and we will keep your letter on file" Cool for you.

Please note, I mentioned the political parties at the village, not town level. There are no Republican or Democratic candidates or parties in any village election.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Aug 13, 13 10:06 AM
Blank - wonder if that correspondence is FOILable...? Problem is you'd have to request correspondence from all moustachioed, high hat wearing East Quogue residents...
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 13, 13 10:58 AM
Not worth the cost of a stamp. Hat made a big deal a while ago about bringing what he perceives to be incredible injustices doled out by the popo, to the attention of the AG. One has to assume they deep sixed the letter as being another missive from someone wearing a tin foil hat.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Aug 13, 13 1:29 PM
Blank - it's a very large tin foil hat. At least give him that
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 13, 13 2:26 PM
to But I'm a blank! & Nature:

By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Aug 13, 13 4:45 PM
This article falls very short of concerns raised informing a new PD...........based on one retired officer...poor reporting, not newsworthy yet IMO..I'm sure there will be many more meetings for residents to air any real concerns they may have, until then I think the press should hold off on reporting anything. This" story" was a waste of time.
By rjhdad (73), southampton on Aug 12, 13 9:23 AM
..and the police pension !!
By david h (405), southampton on Aug 12, 13 3:18 PM
Using a former chief to give you budget figures does make sense but there are dozens of former chiefs on Long Island who have no personal interest in Sagaponack creating their own police department. Nor do they have any interest in becoming Sagaponack's chief. Nor do they come with the baggage and controversy that Wilson brings. Paying Wilson to give accurate figures is just plain dumb and reeks of back room politics. Beware people of Sagaponack it sounds like the fix is in and the mayor's pal Wilson ...more
By fuou812 (59), Oakdale on Aug 24, 13 9:40 AM