MALONE — Franklin County can opt to reclassify sheriff’s deputies as correction officers and remove their ability to make arrests.
But Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill apparently has the constitutional authority to deputize them again and restore their policing credentials, as long as they are fully trained and he can pay them.
The issue surfaced a month after Legislator Guy “Tim” Smith (D-Fort Covington) was arrested by a sheriff’s deputy and charged with driving with ability impaired by alcohol and failure to remain in his own lane.
And it is just days before County Manager Thomas Leitz is to release the tentative 2014 county budget.
NO LAYOFFS PLANNED
Legislature Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) said no job losses are planned in the budget.
“There are no talks of layoffs anywhere in Franklin County,” he said.
But clarification has been received from State Civil Service officials that Sheriff’s Department deputy sheriffs can be laid off and hired back as correction officers.
An email explaining that was sent to Mulverhill last week from County Personnel Director Paul Duffee, who is in charge of Civil Service matters locally.
“I don’t know if this has been put in as a policy or if this is just a matter of research,” the sheriff said.
Jones, who also received the email, said it “was only for research purposes” and was generated by Duffee following a tense discussion during the County Legislature’s Sept. 5 meeting.
Duffee was sitting next to the sheriff when Mulverhill was accused of conducting a road patrol and targeting Smith for arrest. He was told to show proof that his deputy was assigned to do sex-offender checks that day, as he had said.
The sheriff denied Smith was targeted and said that, even though they typically serve civil summonses and conduct evictions, eight of his deputies are Police Academy trained and sworn to take action if they suspect a crime or violation is being committed.
Deputy Luke Cromp reported seeing a vehicle being driven erratically on Aug. 15 and pulled Smith over near the Westville/Malone town line about 6 p.m.
Smith, 71, a former chairman of the County Legislature who is running unopposed for re-election in November, pleaded not guilty and was to appear next in Malone Town Court today.
Legislators reminded Mulverhill on Sept. 5 that they control his budget and could therefore cut funding and possibly reassign deputies.
Mulverhill said he leaned over and asked Duffee if that kind of reclassification was possible.
“Paul told me he’d been asked to research that,” the sheriff said. “That was the only forewarning I had” that Sheriff’s Department personnel and budget could be in jeopardy.
A copy of the email response, obtained by the Press-Republican through a Freedom of Information request, states that if a deputy sheriff/correction officer is laid off, that person is placed at the top of the preferred list of Civil Service candidates so when another correction-officer position is created or a vacancy occurs, the laid-off person is offered the opening first.
If more than one deputy/CO is laid off, priority on the list goes by seniority, based on the person’s original hire date.
Those laid off also get priority for per-diem openings and remain on the preferred list for full-time placement as well.
Mulverhill said that if deputies are laid off and reassigned, fewer people would be available to make sex-offender checks.
As chief law-enforcement officer of a county, the sheriff has jurisdiction over sex offenders except in villages with municipal-police departments, according to Section 168 (a) of the Sex Offender Registration Act.
“The Sheriff’s Department is the sole watchdog for sex offenders, and without deputies (with full policing powers), we will not be able to fulfill our obligation,” Mulverhill said.
Janine Kava, deputy director of public information for the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, said much of the onus of the Sex Offender Registry Program is on the offenders.
Those categorized as a Level 1 or Level 2 offender must notify the jurisdiction in which they live if they move or have other changes to their registry information.
But Level 3 offenders — the highest risk of re-offending — and those deemed sexual predators, must physically report every 90 days to their jurisdiction designee.
Level 1 and 2 offenders must also have their photograph taken every three years and Level 3 offenders every year if their appearance has changed, Kava said.
DOZENS IN COUNTY
Franklin County has 56 Level 3 registered sex offenders, according to the division’s website.
How the Level 1 and Level 2 checks are made and how often is up to the law-enforcement official in charge, “but their obligation is to enforce the sex-offender statute exactly like any other law in the state,” Kava said.
Franklin County deputies recently arrested two sex offenders for non-compliance during a lengthy campaign conducted with the U.S. Marshal Service, which also contributed $2,000 toward deputy overtime expenses.
Mulverhill said having fewer fully trained deputies could also mean little or no involvement in public-service activities, like parades and the Franklin County Fair, or public-safety concerns, such as STOP DWI, drunken-driving, all-terrain-vehicle or snowmobile-trail checkpoints.
“A sheriff is a constitutional office with police powers. It always has been,” Mulverhill said.
“And we’re the only law-enforcement officials the public gets to vote on.”
According to Article 17 Section 652 (2) of New York State County Law, “within the limits of the appropriation, the sheriff may appoint as many regular deputy sheriffs as he may deem proper, but not exceeding one for every 3,000 inhabitants of the county.”
Franklin County’s population is about 51,000, so Mulverhill could deputize as many as 17 people.
So if any of his trained deputies are laid off and placed on the preferred Civil Service list, he could hire them as COs, then swear them in as deputies again.
When asked if he would recognize the policing powers of a correction officer if he or she were deputized by the sheriff, County District Attorney Derek Champagne said: “Yes. The sheriff has the authority to deputize as many people as he sees fit under the constitutional statute.
“If the correction officer meets all of the Division of Criminal Justice Services qualifications, I would absolutely honor their work in this county,” the DA said.
Mulverhill said his 2014 budget request includes $93,000 to hire three corrections officers — the second of three planned staff additions the County Legislature is mandated to make to comply with State Commission on Corrections staffing levels.
When he was elected sheriff in 2011, he asked the state to audit his department and, as a result, was told he needed to hire nine additional people to cover the 24-hour, seven-day operation of the Sheriff’s Department.
Some legislators have been upset ever since that report, saying the sheriff overstepped his authority and cost taxpayers a lot of money unnecessarily by bringing in the commission, which is allowing phased-in hiring over a three-year period.
‘NO NEED FOR CHANGE’
Legislator Marc “Tim” Lashomb, chairman of the Public Safety Committee that oversees the Sheriff’s Department, said the issue for him is the cost of deputy sheriffs compared to correction officers.
The starting salary for each is the same, roughly $30,600, and each person is paid by the county while they train.
Correction officers unde six weeks of schooling and start can be on the job as soon as they finish, whereas deputy sheriffs go for at least 24 weeks of Police Academy training before they can start, said Undersheriff Patrick White.
“There doesn’t seem to be much difference in the salary between a deputy and a correction officer, and I don’t think there is a reason to make any changes,” Lashomb said.
“I don’t see where we need to do anything unless the sheriff wanted to add more deputies. If, in the future, he needed to hire more deputies, I’d want to look at that because we have to pay for 24 weeks of training.”
In that case, he said, he’d rather see correction officers hired.
“And if we have to lay off people, I don’t see the Commission on Corrections allowing that. We couldn’t lay people off if we wanted to,” Lashomb said.
“I don’t see where we have to fool with anything.”
Email Denise A. Raymodraymo@pressrepublican.com