MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The Carmel Town Board continues to fight rumors that it is planning to dismantle its police department because the agency is no longer fiscally sustainable.
During the open forum portion of its meeting last Wednesday (Jan. 6), the board addressed comments from members of the public and the police union who said they feared that recent actions undertaken by the board were a prelude to the Carmel Police Department’s demise.
In March of last year, the board sent a letter to County Executive MaryEllen Odell asking that the county study the feasibility of police consolidation among its municipal police forces. That study is currently underway. More recently, the board reached an agreement with the Sheriff’s Department to add a patrol car to work alongside the Carmel PD.
Supervisor Ken Schmitt, a retired Carmel police officer, said those moves were simply an attempt by the board to find ways to save the taxpayers money without reducing services. He said it has never been his administration’s goal to eliminate the police department.
“I am proud to say I am a retired Carmel police officer,” Schmitt told the audience during the meeting. “I am here to tell you that there will be a town of Carmel Police Department. [Doing away with it] will not happen under my watch. They do an excellent job.”
Board members noted that they are on the verge of hiring two new officers and buying two new patrol cars, and have recently made technological upgrades in the police department’s equipment.
“Does that sound like something we would do if we were planning on taking apart the police department?” asked Councilman Frank Lombardi.
Lombardi said that that no hours are being reduced or Carmel police patrols cut. He said that adding a sheriff’s department patrol car to the mix is simply giving the taxpayer more bang for the buck.
“We had more police services on Jan. 1 than we did on Dec. 31,” he said.
However, Sgt. John Dearman, president of the Carmel Police Benevolent Association (PBA)—the police union—remained skeptical despite the board’s assertions that the police department was safe. Dearman said that despite the fact that the town has budgeted for two new officers, he won’t believe it until the new hires actually show up and are sent to the police academy, which starts in four weeks.
“I can’t believe it until I see it,” Dearman said. “I know it’s budgeted, but still...”
Dearman said that Putnam Valley also added new officers and cars to its police force several years ago and then turned around and dissolved it. He said he’s been approached by police officers from other communities who said this is a similar scenario and the union should be ready.
“We are on high alert,” Dearman said.
Board members said that Putnam Valley and Carmel are different situations and shouldn’t be compared, noting that Carmel is a much larger police force with a $9 million budget.
“I don’t care what happened in Putnam Valley,” Lombardi said. “Enough already [with the rumors]. You are scaring people. I don’t know what more we can say. We have gone over this a million times. Why would we waste our breath and time?”
The exchange between Dearman and the board became heated at times as Schmitt admonished the union president for allegedly giving him the middle finger. After Lombardi complained that the police and town officials were no longer cordial to each other and didn’t even wave, Schmitt remarked to Dearman: “You waved to me the other night, didn’t you? I saw what your wave was,” as he gestured with his middle finger. “Don’t wave like that. I’d rather you not wave.”
Mahopac resident Jack Coxen a retired police officer, who served in Ossining and Croton, said during the public comment portion of the meeting that he was unhappy with the addition of a dedicated sheriff’s department patrols for several reasons.
“I think this is a fragmentation of police services,” he said. “We have allowed the [Carmel] police department to shrink. There are no guarantees or contracts with the sheriff’s department. We rely on you (the Town Board) to provide us with services for which we have paid and not substitute another.”
Board members explained that Carmel/Mahopac taxpayers contribute more than $7 million in county taxes that are dedicated to the sheriff’s department budget, so technically no “substitution” was taking place. They also noted that the sheriff’s patrols were not taking the place of a Carmel police patrol, but rather supplementing them.
“We have just been trying to think outside the box,” Lombardi said. “There have been no cuts or reduction in hours [for Carmel police]. Do you want more police services or less?”
Coxen said he also worried that the sheriff’s deputies would be unfamiliar with the community.
“They won’t have the culture of the Carmel Police Department,” he told the board. “The Carmel PD is better situated, better motivated.”
Schmitt responded that when a crime is committed, most residents don’t care what uniform the officer is wearing when they show up.
“Would you call 9-1-1 and tell them, ‘I only want Carmel PD to respond?’” he asked Coxen.
Councilwoman Suzi McDonough said she doesn’t believe that adding sheriff’s patrols will hinder the community feeling that the Carmel PD cultivates.
“There is no intention to lose that,” she said. “But we are all paying [county taxes] and we felt we should get something for it. We had to do something and we are still working it all out.”
Councilman Jonathan Schneider said the police union and the public need to be patient and let the new arrangement with the sheriff’s department evolve.
“It’s a living evolution,” Schneider said. “Is it perfect? No. Will there be hiccups? Sure. Will egos be hurt? Yes. But we have to let it evolve.”
The PBA has taken out full-page ads in several local papers this past week, including Mahopac News, criticizing the Town Board for its contract negotiation tactics, as well as its police force staffing efforts over the past four years.
“The Carmel Police Department continues to provide around-the-clock professional police services despite the loss of six positions since 2012 and threats of layoffs,” the PBA ad states. “The town’s refusal to address this manpower shortfall has resulted in the elimination of our narcotics unit, traffic safety unit, marine and bicycle patrols. The police department has been reduced to basic patrol and detective functions.”
Town Board members countered that the addition of two new officers, along with the sheriff’s department patrol—a well as a promised dedicated patrol car from the state police—would allow the town to reinstate some or all of those special units.
Schneider said the board has given the police department whatever it has asked for.
“Weapons, technology, manpower,” he said. “We want to make sure [the police department] has what it needs.”