MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The Carmel Police Benevolent Association (PBA) has filed a grievance with the state contending that the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department should not be given dedicated patrols within the town of Carmel, effectively shelving current contract talks between the union and the town.
The Town Board reached an agreement last month with the Sheriff’s Department that provides the town with a patrol car dedicated to a particular sector of the community (the town is divided into three sectors).
Town Board members say that the addition of the sheriff’s patrol is meant to supplement the existing Carmel PD patrols and would not impact personnel decisions for the department. They say it would merely give the chief more flexibility in scheduling and help better control overtime. But the police union doesn’t view it that way and filed a grievance with the New York State Public Employees Relation Board (PERB).
“They (the sheriff’s department) took a piece of the town—they took a third of the town,” said Sgt. John Dearman, president of the Carmel PBA. “They don’t do that in any other town. They are using the sheriff’s department to do our jobs—road patrols and investigations. The PBA does not see it as supplementing our department, but taking away.”
Dearman emphasized that the union has no problem with the sheriff’s department operating in Carmel and Mahopac, but said it shouldn’t get a dedicated sector of the town to patrol.
“We welcome the sheriff’s department; we are OK with it and need it most of the time,” he said. “We just feel they shouldn’t get a third of the town. They shouldn’t be assigned a specific sector. It should be done the same as other towns [in Putnam County]. If they are closer to a call, then they can take it and they can supplement [the Carmel PD] in the proper way.”
Councilman John Lupinacci, who has acted as the Town Board liaison during contract negotiations between the town and the police union, said the grievance has stalled the current talks because the decision on the grievance could impact the town’s finances.
The two sides were in the process of retroactively negotiating a collective bargaining agreement for 2015 as well as for this year and perhaps beyond.
“If they (the union) are victorious with the grievance we will have to start thinking about other ways to control expenditures,” he said. “If we have to add more officers (to make up for the loss of the sheriff’s patrols), which we really can’t afford, then we would have to ask for more healthcare contributions and lower salary increases. Overtime would go through the roof with the sheriff out of the equation and we would have to hire four to six officers to equate what the sheriff is providing. That’s key.”
The cost of those extra officers, Lupinacci said, would cost the town approximately $300,000 initially and as much as $1 million within the next five years.
The councilman noted that before the agreement with the sheriff’s department was made, Carmel PD had four, sometimes five, cars on patrol.
“So right now we have four Carmel cars, one or two from the sheriff, and one from the state police,” he said. “That means we have six or seven cop cars total on patrol in Carmel. If they win [the grievance] that will go down back to four. How does that benefit the taxpayer?”
Lupinacci said the sheriff’s department has always had a presence in the town and it’s never been the exclusive domain of the Carmel Police Department.
“The sheriff’s department has patrolled in Carmel for years,” he said. “They have detectives and investigators in the town of Carmel; tickets have been written in the town of Carmel by sheriff’s deputies. They’ve always had a presence here. So why does the PBA believe that have exclusive rights to police the town of Carmel? If you go to the Putnam County charter, the sheriff’s department has the right to provide law enforcement throughout Putnam County and the state police can do it in any town or village in New York.”
Lupinacci said the Town Board continues to support the Carmel PD and has no intention of dismantling the agency.
“We keep buying supplies and adding resources and we are hiring two new officers,” he said. “There is nothing negative here except the union isn’t getting its way. This (the sheriff’s patrols) is a win/win situation. But they disagree that it’s a win.”
Dearman said he believes the grievance filed with PERB over the sheriff’s patrols and the current contract negotiations are unrelated and shouldn’t be an excuse to halt contract talks.
“It’s two separate things; one has nothing to do with the other,” he said. “We sent them [a contract proposal] by email and we haven’t heard back.”
Lupinacci said the union’s recent written proposal didn’t jibe with what the two sides had previously discussed in person.
“We had agreed verbally about a good starting point and that includes six points,” Lupinacci said, declining to reveal what those specific points were. “But their proposal contained only two of those six points. I scratched my head and wondered what happened to our verbal agreement. It seems like we take one step up and then two steps back.”
Dearman said his union was more than willing to head back to the bargaining table. But Lupinacci said the town will have to wait until PERB renders its decision on the grievance. Once that’s done, however, the councilman said he would be open to negotiating a long-term contract.