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December 08, 2016
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Police review panel approved; opposition from sheriff and towns

The Sullivan County Legislature changed the name of the proposed committee from a Police Commission to a Law Enforcement Review Panel, but the name change did not sway those who were opposed to it.

At a public hearing regarding the creation of the panel at the government center on August 2, Sheriff Mike Schiff said the panel would mean merely another layer of government that is not needed. He said the Public Safety Committee already has the authority to gather information about the police departments in the county and therefore the review panel was unnecessary.

Schiff had support from the Sullivan County Supervisors’ Association, which passed a resolution that said, “The existing committee system already provides for opportunities for experts to be invited to speak, for outside opinions to be solicited and for the receipt of cost-saving measures of any sort to be shared.

Kyle Muthig, president of the Sullivan County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, indicated that he believed the panel would recommend layoffs in the sheriff’s department because, according to the related resolution, one of its goals would be “maintaining and increasing the services of the New York State Police,” which would mean a decreased need for sheriffs deputies.

The county legislature proposed this commission, among other reasons, as a way to identify possible duplication of effort among the various law enforcement agencies, and to make changes that might save taxpayers money. Everyone connected with county government is acutely aware of the budget pressure facing the legislature this year: lawmakers will likely vote to override the Albany-imposed property tax cap and are facing the possibility of a double-digit tax increase. This was reflected in the remarks of several residents who spoke in favor of the panel.

Tom Manza, for instance, applauded the legislators for “taking on hot topics that other legislators have passed on,” and said, “Every area of government and spending has to be scrutinized at this time. You guys are between a rock and a hard place. The average Joe is who you’re really here to represent. There are people out there who are losing their homes and losing their jobs—we have to remember them.”

Sandy Shaddock, a business agent for Teamsters Local 445, which represents hundreds of county workers, and who is also a former 911 dispatcher, said that the sheriffs patrols are already stretched thin with, some nights, only two or three deputies covering the entire county. Even so, she said she supported the notion of reviewing the finances and, in fact, the review panel would not go far enough. She said there should be a “forensic audit” of every department in county government.

In the end, the committee voted four to zero to create the panel, and it is expected to be approved by the full panel on August 9. Members of the panel will include former district attorney Steve Lungen and former county legislator David Sager.
A final report from the panel to the legislature regarding the “level of law enforcement services that would be provided at the county government level” is due by October 15.