Three hot topics regarding the town's police operations — next year, , and a proposed $700,000 — all came to a head on Tuesday afternoon as the town board continued its discussion with Police Chief William Wilson on how to best balance public safety in 2012 and beyond while maintaining a steady tax line.
Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst's budget calls for a reduction of six uniformed police officers — with two more retiring — lowering the current number from 100 to 92. However the department is being "significantly reorganized," said the chief, in such a manner to shift some uniformed officers currently performing clerical work out onto the streets.
"Regardless of what the staffing levels should be, this technology project in my opinion should move forward because we desperately need this upgrade in technology," said Wilson, who used the technology at his former job as Southampton Village police chief.
Throne-Holst indicated that based on previous conversations with Wilson, the layoffs and subsequent reorganization of the department would be reliant on some kind of technological upgrade to improve the efficiency of the clerical work.
A couple members on the town board expressed skepticism that the $695,000 tech upgrade would necessarily do that job — and help keep overtime costs down. The high price tag first struck some members of the board following the first meeting about the upgrade, where it was originally pitched as a $250,000 job. Reaction to the price still remained a concern for some on Tuesday.
"There are a lot of positives of this system, but three-quarter of a million dollars is a large price to pay," Councilman Chris Nuzzi said.
Councilman Jim Malone questioned whether the town could afford to do it all at once — a similar concern he's brought forward in the board's approach to .
Wilson was in full agreement that the price tag would be a large one, though in support of the expense he said, "It literally impacts upon every facet of police operations: investigation, administration, patrol, communications."
In addition, he said, the system would help boost the town's conviction rate in its justice court and keep costs such as pension and health care down in the long run. He said he expects the system to pay for itself — through the time it saves his department — in three years.
As the police force continues to run in the red on its overtime expenses Wilson added that the tech upgrade would help keep overtime costs down in the future — or at least in helping to manage them. Currently, Wilson's department logs its overtime expense sometimes up to 30 days after the hours are originally accrued, as officers — per union contracts — have that long to turn in their overtime slips. As a result, the hours sometimes go unchecked for weeks at a time, until they're submitted for receipt.
Malone questioned whether an automated system was necessary to keep overtime costs from coming in unexpectedly.
One large reason for the surge in overtime requests came due to a mandated eighth sector Wilson added in the Flanders/Riverside area. The chief now allows the acting sergeants to pull one car off the road at his or her own discretion, should it be deemed safe.
The supervisor said she hopes to vote on the technology upgrade proposal before the end of the week. The town board meets again on Friday.