Carmel, NY, November 6, 2020: In a Press Release dated October 29, 2020, Putnam County Executive Maryellen Odell alleges, “there have been false and erroneous statements circulating regarding law enforcement and the 2021 county budget.” She claims that allegations that she “defunded” the police are untrue. I guess the County Executive does not know the meaning of the word defund. Defund means “prevent from continuing to receive funds.” In the budget that the County Executive submitted, she, among other things, defunded a Sergeant’s position and cut the Marine Patrol budget. Despite her protestations, the people of Putnam County can clearly see what has taken place to the Sheriff’s Department Budget at the hands of the County Executive and by a majority of members of the Board of Legislature: Personal Politics over Public Safety. The County officials who supported these outlandish cuts to public safety seem to forget they work for the taxpayers of Putnam County, who deserve better, not less, police services.
The release further states that families across Putnam County have experienced financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Apparently, Legislative Deputy Chair Neal L. Sullivan does not seem to think so. After not restoring the Marine unit and other budget transfers for the Sheriff’s Department, Legislator Sullivan made a proposal and motion to give a raise to all the legislators under “other business” during the Budget Meeting on October 29, 2020. This was seconded by Legislator Ginny Nacerino. This was an increase which was not put on the Agenda but placed under “other business” to hide it from the people of Putnam County with no transparency to the taxpayers. All but two legislators voted yes for these raises with Legislators Montgomery and Castellano voting against the raise. It is disingenuous for the Legislature to reduce police services while at the same time giving themselves a raise.
The County Executive, in her release, further makes allegations of budget mismanagement by the Sheriff’s Office; especially regarding the patrol overtime budget. This is an outlandish and unsupported accusation. The Sheriff’s Department has followed a long precedence in managing the budget that was never questioned under the past two administrations. It seems that standard business practices that were acceptable under past administrations now only raises questioning by the County when the duly elected Sheriff does not share the same party line. The Sheriff’s Office puts the people first to ensure their safety and constitutional rights. This Sheriff does not play personal politics with Public Safety or any aspect of the Office of Sheriff.
The County is not even following its own memorandum regarding unnecessary spending when advising that spending should be only for essential services. Why then do a major construction project to build new restrooms at Tilly Foster at a cost exceeding three quarters of a million dollars, a project that is still ongoing. That is clearly not fiscally responsible nor good management when funding is being cut to public safety. The Sheriff’s Department operates 24/7/365 and is responsible for providing police services in towns and villages that do not have their own police department. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Department responds to emergencies and various situations in towns that have dedicated policing along with providing backup and support services to these police agencies countywide. The Sheriff’s Department also maintains a Jail and a Civil Division.
If the County would allow for the hiring of more deputies, it would reduce a large portion of overtime for shift coverage. However, overtime is substantially cheaper to the taxpayer since no additional benefits packages are needed as with new hires. There are many situations that create overtime in the Sheriff’s Department such as shift coverage due to the lack of staffing resulting from retirements, illness, line of duty injuries, family emergencies, vacations, personal days, compensatory time off, military leave, arrest processing, court appearances, emergency calls near the end of a tour, and training.
Another enormous expense is the Municipal Police Training Counsel that each newly hired deputy is required to complete at an approved police academy. In addition, they must also do a requisite amount of field training. This is an eight plus month process to complete. Currently, we have two new deputies in the Police Academy and interim coverage is needed for what would be their shifts. We can go on with reasons overtime is generated and the bottom line is this is an essential public safety service. To ensure public safety and the safety of our deputies there is a minimum number of patrols maintained that often require to be filled on overtime.
As for the allegation that $2.8 million was spent on overtime incurred by deputy sheriffs and corrections officers, perhaps it would be fair for the County Executive to provide the amount put back into the county fund through chargebacks and what is reimbursed by the State. It is correct to say that 48 deputies earned an average of $128,430 in salary and overtime. Those individuals, however, work long hours in often dangerous conditions to earn that compensation. They are not given additional job titles to increase their compensation at taxpayer’s expense.
It is true that three deputy sheriffs earned more than Sheriff Langley. These are hourly waged employees unlike management and elected officials who do not receive overtime compensation because their salaries are fixed. The fact that deputies made more than the salaried position of the Sheriff says that these outstanding members of the Department are dedicated to serving the community and this agency. There are several who work available overtime while many prefer to dedicate their time off to their families and friends. Similar to other police departments we depend on these members to provide the shift coverage required to maintain adequate public safety.
It is important to understand that all overtime is equalized among the members. Overtime is assigned on a rotational basis, which means that the last person to work an overtime position goes to the back of the list before being assigned their next overtime assignment. The list must rotate throughout all the deputies volunteering before a member is again eligible to be assigned another overtime shift. It is a fair and equitable system that provides the same overtime opportunities for all members.
The County Executive, in her proposed budget, eliminated the funding for Marine Patrols on the Hudson River. The Marine Patrol Unit was established on the Hudson River and Lake Oscawana in 1998 by then Sheriff Robert D. Thoubboron to patrol these bodies of water in Putnam County. Note that the Hudson River shorelines have always been a part of Putnam County since its birth in 1812. The New York State Park’s Department provides the boats that the Sheriff’s Office use at no cost to the County with the stipulation that we patrol the Hudson Valley waterway. The Marine Patrol has always been funded through overtime since its inception. Of note is that NYS reimburses the County 50% of the overtime costs required to provide public safety on the Putnam County waterways.
The Marine Patrol continued to operate on overtime throughout the entire administration of Sheriff Donald B. Smith for 16 years unchallenged by County officials. Although other agencies may have marine units, they are not dedicated to Putnam County and there is no overlap of services. As a factual matter, the Sheriff’s Department is most often the first and only responder to marine incidents. It has responded to numerous incidents throughout the years including, but not limited to, security related to September 11 and ongoing terrorist threats throughout the Hudson Valley, the recovery of bodies from the waterways, personal injury incidents and other boat accidents, searches for suspects and evidence, and safety checks and education to boaters. The mere presence of the Marine Patrol in these waters is critical in ensuring that boaters operate their boats safely and legally.
Since 2007, the Marine Patrol has participated in Homeland Security training and drills with the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S Customs, most notably “Operation Small Fry.” During these drills members of these federal agencies ride with the Marine Patrol on our boats to seek out foreign flagged and domestic vessels checking for proper documentation. Other drills have included operations to see if it is possible to shut down river traffic in an emergency with neighboring county and state agencies participating.
One can only question the motive for eliminating the Marine Patrol of the Hudson River given the history and vital services it provides to keep residents and visitors to Putnam County safe. Additionally, the position of Civil Sergeant, which has been in existence for over thirty years, has been eliminated in the 2021 budget without even an explanation to the Sheriff’s Department. The position was not funded in the 2021 budget despite the fact that it is currently not vacant and may result in a layoff in January. Several memoranda explaining the necessity and value of the Civil Sergeant have been sent to the Legislature, who would not even consider it for discussion under “other business” at the Legislative Budget Meeting. I would like to thank Legislators Jonke, Castellano and Montgomery for voting to add the issue of the funding of the Sergeant’s position to the agenda on October 29, 2020 at the full legislative meeting to adopt the budget.
Clearly the 2021 Budget that the Sheriff requested was cut by County officials. These cuts will have an impact on the Road Patrol, Marine Patrol and Civil functions. The eliminations and reductions to funding were done without the input or support of the Sheriff’s Department and will clearly reduce police services to Putnam residents.
It is important to note that after realizing that the Patrol overtime was reduced for the second year in a row, the Marine Unit was reduced to eliminate patrols on the Hudson River and Lake Mahopac, and the Civil Sergeant was eliminated, the Sheriff’s Department went back to review our budget submitted to the Legislature and made cuts to other areas to fund these items. We did the responsible thing in finding the money and attempted to work with the Legislature so that the Legislature did not have to find the funding for these valuable services. What was the outcome? The Legislature did not restore any of the above. Instead they verbally attacked the Sheriff’s Department only to move the savings from our budget to the County sub-contingency budget line. How is this fair to the Sheriff’s Department, who did everything it could to resolve this issue? I would like to thank Legislators Jonke, Castellano and Montgomery and Gouldman who did vote to approve the proposed budget transfers to fund the Patrol overtime and the Marine Unit.
To be perfectly clear, the result of the Legislature’s inaction and their passage of a resolution last year that prohibits the Sheriff from incurring overtime from a specific budget line will be to give the Sheriff only two choices. The first will be to eliminate Sheriff Department’s patrols and emergency coverage to areas of the County where there is no designated police response. The second will be to continue to patrol all areas of Putnam County by backfilling these patrols and incurring overtime even if the Legislature does not approve the fund transfers in the next couple of weeks to cover adequate patrols for the safety of Putnam County residents and its deputies and countywide police officers. This choice, however, will most likely result in the Legislature ultimately accusing the current Sheriff of violating the County Charter section 7.08. Again I would note that the Sheriff’s Department’s has identified existing Sheriff Department funds to cover adequate patrols through the end of the year that has no fiscal impact to the County but the legislature has failed to approve the transfer of those funds to cover the expense.
The Sheriff and his command staff have professionally dealt with County officials on all levels and only wants to manage the Sheriff Office’s public safety mandates and operations free from the perceived oversight that some officials think is inherent in budget appropriations. These officials should provide the financial support to the Sheriff’s Office and recognize the tremendous work that the deputies and corrections officers do every day, not by shallow words that are so often publicly said on the record, but by their actual actions. To date their actions do not support the words they say. Let’s properly fund the Sheriff’s Department, support its initiatives that enhance public and put partisan politics aside.
Sheriff Robert L. Langley, Jr.