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It’s good police contract was signed

The Millerton News Editorial

It’s been a tumultuous time for the village of Millerton, the Millerton Police Department (MPD) and the citizens of both the village and the town of North East that the MPD protects, as the Village Board has been hashing out whether it should keep the local, part-time force or abolish it and instead hire the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) to patrol its streets.

While there have long been murmurs around the water cooler about the possibility of the village police force going by the wayside, there was never a move made in that direction. Until, that is, December of 2021, when Officer-in-Charge Veeder said the Millerton Village Board made what he called “a bad decision” to switch officers’ schedules so they would patrol more often during the daytime to assist local businesses; help drivers dealing with heavy traffic and parking challenges; aid people using the very popular Harlem Valley Rail Trail and all others visiting the village of Millerton. 

The problem, said Veeder, is that he had most of his part-time officers scheduled for night-time shifts, when the highest call volume was recorded at the MPD. 

The Village Board’s shift in policy caused a rift in relations — relations that were reported by some behind the scenes and some out in front of the community — to already be strained due to a range of factors — whether it was just the formality of how police officers sometimes speak, act and present themselves; the unfamiliarity that those in charge of enforcing the law may have for being told how to do their jobs; or a reported personal beef between the mayor and Veeder. Whatever personal or professional issues may or may not exist really is not the point here. 

The point is that Mayor Jenn Najdek, as the person who governs the village and runs the Millerton Police Department, made an executive decision with the support of her board (though it was not unanimous, due to Trustee Dave Sherman’s hesitancy). Her decision — the village’s decision — had to, therefore, be respected and followed.

It was a difficult decision, and no one, not even the mayor, has been so bold to say if it was the absolute correct one, as all of the evidence hasn’t been collected yet. 

What has followed, though, in the many months since, has been an open and transparent process, with the public invited to participate, to consider whether the MPD would best serve the community or make the village vulnerable by opening it up to future liability.  And liability, according to Najdek, is the crux of the issue. That, along with the $115,000 price tag (2022 figures) to fund the MPD — money that could go toward other much-needed village projects, like a wastewater system, sidewalk repairs, park updates, etc.

The other side of the coin, though, is that the MPD provides a valuable service. Yes, Millerton is a small community — is it worth that money to protect 900 residents, plus the business owners who help keep the village vibrant? Is it worth it to make the shoppers and diners who contribute to our economy; the tourists who explore our trails, parks and farms; and all the others who visit what has been called one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America,” by the national press feel safe?

We think it’s worth considering — closely — as the Village Board and so many local residents have been doing so diligently. 

Yes, the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) offers a great option, to provide a rotating 24-hour shift of one deputy per every eight hours to patrol village streets. They’d have a local substation, right where the MPD headquarters is currently set up at Village Offices.

The best part, of course, is that the county would take on all of the liability — freeing the village from having to worry about ever being sued again for any police wrongdoing. Considering it’s dealing with three lawsuits at the moment, that would certainly be a big relief.

But what about the relief of residents knowing when they call 911, a police officer would arrive within minutes, versus within an hour, were a DCSO deputy have been pulled away to another community and the closest respondent not so very close? Having a local police force is not something all towns and villages are fortunate enough to enjoy these days, and those that do should think very carefully before getting rid of them.

There are good points on both sides of this argument — and it is worth it to consider the pros and cons of abolishing the MPD before making a decision that cannot be undone. 

We’re simply glad, in the meantime, the North East Town Board prompted the village to move forward and sign a contract to continue providing services with the MPD for another year while this gets sorted through. 

The MPD is down to four patrol officers at the moment and is now looking to hire. For information, contact Veeder at mveeder.millertonpolice@gmail.com. He can fill you in on the requirements, but basically recruits must be at least 21 years old and a U.S. citizen. Training will be provided. 

The village is undertaking an organizational study of the MPD. The mayor hopes it will help solve the issue in with neutrality and let the village start focusing on other issues for all of Millerton. For more on the study, and information on how to submit a Request for Proposals (RFP), go to www.villageofmillerton.net. The deadline for electronic proposals is Friday, July 29, at 4 p.m.

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