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December 18, 2014
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Proposed law enforcement commission draws fire


A proposed law enforcement commission that would report to the Sullivan County Legislature sparked criticism from some quarters when it was proposed last week.

Dan Sturm, supervisor of the Town of Bethel, read the proposal at the town meeting on July 11. It stated that the commission would analyze all of the police entities in the county, including state police, the sheriff’s office, village police departments and constabularies, and would “make a policy determination on the level of law enforcement services that can be fiscally sustainable.”

After Sturm read the proposal, he said, “I can’t in any way, shape or form support the formation of this proposed commission.” He said that it would be the role of the elected sheriff in the county to make such recommendations to the county, and he added, “It seems like an effort to pass the buck of county responsibility on to towns and villages—the cost of patrols and so on—and that, of course, would go to our taxpayers.”

The other council members at the table agreed and voted to send a letter to the county legislature noting their opposition to the commission.

In Monticello the next day, about 20 members of the law enforcement community appeared at the government center and listened to a discussion about the proposed commission.

Legislator Cora Edwards said it was never the intent of the proposal to shift costs to the towns or villages. As to the structure of the committee, she said the legislature would appoint the members of the commission, who would then provide the legislature with advice.

Legislator Kitty Vetter said, “I think it is important to recognize that there is an overlap in a number of the services [that are provided in the county].” Legislator Cindy Geiger noted that the proposed commission had not yet been formed, and no action had been taken.

Legislator Gene Benson said, “It’s only an advisory board, and contrary to a lot of rumors that are flying around, we’re not trying to fire anybody; we’re not trying to get rid of any of the law enforcement agencies in the county. We want to do a comprehensive study to make sure that we’re spending our money in the proper way. So, I’d like to end the rumors right now—the rumors that were flying around here before we even brought this to the table.”

Sheriff Mike Schiff, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, said it would be his preference that a subcommittee of the legislature be appointed to study the issue rather than the creation of a commission. He said, “Any civilian board that you’re going to appoint will have varied interests; you may or may not get people who have the proper interest in what the outcome might be. Some civilians may be more concerned with taxes, and some more with law enforcement.” He said he wanted the legislature to work closely with any entity analyzing the matter, and that’s why he preferred a subcommittee.

Legislative chair Scott Samuelson said that it was not yet determined that it would be a “civilian board,” but that the legislature would take Schiff’s remarks into consideration.