By DENISE A. RAYMO
---- — MALONE — Residents concerned about police coverage if the Village of Malone dissolves have a definitive answer about future protection from the State Police.
“There would be no added patrols,” said Major Richard Smith, commander of Troop B headquarter of the State Police at Ray Brook.
If dissolution is approved by referendum vote Tuesday, it would eliminate the Village Police Department and leave the question of police protection up to the Malone Town Council. Councilors can either create a townwide police force, seek state permission to create a police district or leave it to the troopers to handle.
NOT ENOUGH TO COVER
But Smith told the Press-Republican that his staff wouldn’t be able to adequately cover their existing territory and the former village.
Calls would have to be prioritized more carefully, which would sometimes lead to slower response times in the former village than residents are used to, he said, and that doesn’t improve police protection in the community.
Smith said that because of the size of the patrol territory, slim staffing and other investigative responsibilities, State Police aren’t able give extra services to a community like a village department can, such as being an escort for night-banking transactions or being available at school activities.
“Those are services we don’t have the ability to provide,” Smith said of his troopers.
He said the State Police force was not created to serve areas with concentrated population but rather residents in more rural parts of a community where there is no constabulary.
“We’d like to respond, but we aren’t going to be able to give the people the kind of experience they get with the Village Police Department,” Smith said.
NEW BORDER INITIATIVE
Right now, 22 troopers are assigned to Malone, and two recent academy graduates will be brought in soon.
But the Malone contingent was recently assigned to an inter-agency law-enforcement team to step up security along the international border with Canada, adding even more responsibility to the already thin force, Smith said.
“We just can’t give the people in the village the kind of experience they’d expect from their Police Department,” Smith said.
At the same time, Village Police Chief Chris Premo said he opposes dissolution, in part, because of the rate of crime Malone sees compared to other local villages.
Malone had 50 burglaries and 207 larceny cases in 2010, compared to 34 burglaries and 119 larcenies in Saranac Lake and 26 burglaries and 80 larcenies in Tupper Lake, according to the crime index reported to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
In 2011, Malone had 46 burglaries and 245 larcenies, Saranac Lake had 28 burglaries and 77 larcenies, and Tupper Lake had 23 burglaries and 80 larcenies, the report states.
LOSS OF OFFICERS
Premo also worries that during the two-year transition between dissolution and the town taking over village operations and possibly creating a police force or district, the experienced staff will leave.
“One other guy and I can retire before then, but there’s no guarantee that for that two years, in limbo, that if these officers see an opportunity to get a job somewhere else, they’re not going to take it,” Premo said.
He said he spoke with the police chief in Seneca Falls, the New York state community that is the most recent one to dissolve.
“He said the officers had to take a $2-an-hour pay cut,” Premo said. “No one here is getting rich, but compare the State Police to the Malone Police Department. We start out at $30,000, and troopers start out at $50,000.
“My fear is if I retire and Sgt. (Jim) Russell retires, if others can get better jobs, they’ll go because aren’t going to take a pay cut. The community is going to suffer.”
Premo said he’s worked with the Village Board to keep expenses down. The new union contract bumps retirement from the department from 20 to 25 years and requires new hires to contribute 10 percent to their health-insurance premium.
The chief said the timing of possible dissolution is also poor, as the use of heroin and other hard drugs is on the rise and more burglaries and thefts have been reported.
“And it’s only going to get worse.”
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