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Joint Police Committee seeks mission statement

North East, Millerton & their approach to law enforcement

MILLERTON — The virtual Joint Village of Millerton/Town of North East Police Service Committee (PSC) meeting held on Thursday, Jan. 6, at 6 p.m. drew about 20 community members. They were there to witness the two appointed Village Board members and two appointed Town Board members discuss the committee’s purpose, and its vision of the Millerton Police Department’s (MPD) future.

The joint committee was actually created about two years ago, as part of a contract between the town and village. When former Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated all communities with their own police departments re-evaluate their policies in the wake of George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, the chore fell onto the pre-existing PSC. The committee was also required to come up with a police reform policy for the MPD.

Background

The town of North East contracts with the village of Millerton for police services, paying roughly 20% of the MPD’s annual budget. For the village’s fiscal year of June 1 through May 31 of 2022, in which the MPD’s budget came to $115,000, North East paid $26,500, up $500 from 2021.

Looking at its financials, the question was raised at last week’s meeting if it makes more sense to contract with the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) to patrol the village of Millerton and town of North East rather than pay for a part-time police department.

Millerton Mayor Jenn Najdek has said previously on multiple occasions, insuring the MPD poses a “huge liability.”

Currently the MPD has nine part-time officers, all of whom work other jobs to make ends meet, according to MPD Officer-in-Charge Mike Veeder.

The joint committee’s chairman, Village Trustee Matt Hartzog, said assessing the idea of contracting with the DCSO was certainly a topic of interest on Jan. 6, but not one he wanted to be a focal point.

DCSO contract factors

“I just wanted everyone to start with baseline information, and said that the Millerton Police Department does not have the budget of the Beverly Hills Police Department,” said Hartzog days later, giving details about possibly switching services from the MPD to the DCSO.

“The response time from the DCSO is, if they’re coming from the Amenia Substation, about 17 minutes,” he said. “In the evenings, when the DCSO patrols, there are eight different patrolling districts in Dutchess County for the Sheriff’s Office in the evening; we would have between six to eight cars available in the evening spread all over the county. So if they happen to be sitting in the Wassaic station, they would be ready to go. It would be 17 minutes to the village of Millerton.”

NYSP another option

The committee chairman said if Millerton were to contract with the New York State Police (NYSP), which has its Troop K barracks at Salt Point roughly 25 minutes away, and a substation even closer in Dover, that could also provide the village another option to its part-time force.

Hartzog said the NYSP “has not made available” information about how many units it puts on patrol on a nightly basis in Dutchess County.

Either way, he said, he didn’t want to get bogged down in the details, as dissolving the MPD is not the joint committee’s task.

“That’s not really in our remit; our remit is about the existing police department. But we did say the Village Board would be looking into how much it would cost, what the options are and gathering information about it, to see what services might be available and see what the cost might be,” he said. “Because we are a reform committee, and it’s not up to us to say whether or not, that would ultimately be a Village Board decision, and a Town Board decision, because they pay 20% of the budget, but the Millerton Village Board would be the lead agency on that.”

Committee members speak

The other three committee members, Village Trustee Dave Sherman and Town Councilmembers Lana Morrison and Ralph Fedele, also spoke to those who tuned in to the meeting.

Sherman and Morrison both expressed a great interest in hearing from the community. Sherman said he wasn’t completely clear on what the group’s goal is.

Meanwhile Fedele spoke briefly about the history of Millerton, when three trains used to run through the village and it was one of the largest communities around. At the time, he said, there was a real need for strict law enforcement, especially as New York had a lower legal drinking age than its neighboring states of Connecticut and Massachusetts.

After giving his mini-history lesson, the councilman said he was especially interested in hearing what kind policing local residents would like.

The public speaks

Hartzog said those who spoke gave responses that were “all over the place,” with comments ranging from one person suggesting that “it would be wonderful if we could have some sort of mental heath quotient that was in larger cities trying out having mental health professionals [willing] to help diffuse situations, domestic violence situation or injuries, etc.,” to another resident bringing up “that there seems to be overlapping coverage; we will see the DCSO talking to the MPD. There is an overlap when a call goes into 911, and 911 will dispatch the closest unit; it could be the sheriff, the MPD or the NYSP. But if it’s a dangerous situation, hopefully there will be more than one respondent, because you may need that if it’s dangerous.”

Hartzog also said, “There was talk of encouraging the creation of a mission statement for the committee, and I guess by extension that would lean into what came up with the MPD. I suggested that we would like to hear from folks, to email me things they would like to see included — anything — that’s the purpose of the committee — to hear what the community would like to say. The easiest way to do that is to email to us at mhartzog.villagemillerton@gmail.com.”

He noted that the village of Millerton is about to have its website revamped, and when it goes live all of those who work for the village, including Village Board members, will have new email addresses. He didn’t know when that will be though.

Hartzog brought up a comment made by town resident Bill Kish, who is one of the community members who was reportedly interested in creating a citizens’ police committee.

He said Kish had suggested information be included about monthly police reports; apparently in May of 2021 the MPD posted a police report that had a different format with more detailed information. He said he would like to “shoot for that format” if possible.

“We’re not trying to hide anything,” Hartzog said.

Kish, who confirmed at one time he had considered forming a citizens’ committee, no longer feels it’s necessary as the joint PSC serves the purpose. He added the committee really should start providing feedback from a much broader audience.

“I’m happy they met,” said Kish. “I also feel it’s really important they meet more than the minimal requirement [of twice a year]; it’s really important this committee have a well defined mission, otherwise they’re not a going to accomplish anything.”

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