Millerton Board will only permit MPD to hire seasoned officers
MILLERTON — There has been some scuttlebutt in the village of Millerton surrounding its police force once again, as tends to happen every couple of years. This time, it’s surrounding the Village Board’s recent pronouncement that it will no longer allow the Millerton Police Department (MPD) to hire inexperienced officers to work on its part-time force.
Mayor Jenn Najdek confirmed the decision was made during a closed-door executive session during which both legal and personnel matters were discussed, at a July Village Board meeting. Afterward she informed MPD Officer-in-Charge Mike Veeder of the decision.
Najdek also said the reason the matter was handled in that manner was because Veeder never responded to her initial invitation to meet with her and Deputy Mayor Alicia Sartori after she first took office following the June elections.
“The board decided at this point that we wanted to limit our liability as much as possible in sending recruits to the academy and in sending [out] inexperienced officers. That’s the gist of it,” she said. “That’s not to say that we wouldn’t revisit that [issue] again.”
When asked why the concern of liability weighed so heavily on the board’s mind, Najdek explained, adding the village has other costs to deal with as well.
“Worse case scenario, it could bankrupt the village. There are places that has happened. God forbid something happened,” she said. “Different things happened over the years with the police, issues they’ve had, lawsuits and stuff. We’re a small village of 1,000 people. The idea is to limit whatever potential liability we have. As much as we put money into the police budget, we also provide water to village residents and have to figure out how to do that without raising taxes astronomically. We’re looking at this from all angles; we, as a board, have to manage all of the different pieces in the village.”
North East town Supervisor Chris Kennan is the person who signs the annual police contract between the town and the village. He understands the importance of protecting both the safety of the community and the fiscal interest of its residents.
“Municipalities should always be looking to minimize any potential liability, which at the end of the day, ends up on the taxpayers,” said Kennan.
Veeder said, though, when the mayor and the board returned from their executive session in July, he was totally taken aback.
“They didn’t give me a reason why [they came to their decision]; I was just told I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I was working on getting one or two new people into the academy then this got thrown onto my plate.”
He explained that when the MPD looks to hire new men or women, it often looks to hire fresh recruits who are willing to train at the academy -— a cost the recruits shoulder themselves. They also purchase their own weapons.
“The village has very little invested in an officer,” said Veeder. “That’s why it’s so frustrating for me. It’s a no brainier, I would think, to cosponsor someone for the academy.”
Full-time officers typically spend about six months training at the Dutchess County Law Enforcement Academy in Poughkeepsie while part-time officers spend about nine months training.
Afterwards, officers spend a minimum of 160 hours at their dedicated agency doing field training with an experienced officer by their side. The mayor said the village has to pay for that experienced officer, plus the new officer, all of which adds up.
“There are only a couple of officers the new recruit can ride with, and they have to ride 160 hours, with two police on at a certain time,” she said.
Current roster, training
Currently the part-time Millerton force has 10 officers, including Veeder. Unseasoned officers get paid on the low end of the pay scale, about $17 an hour. Veeder newcomers can also be molded to follow the department’s community policing policies and protocols.
New cadets are also trained in the most recent police techniques and procedures current with today’s issues; they’re taught to be aware of hot-button issues and current with diversity training as well up-to-date with mental illness training and other societal needs. Those new recruits would be privy to many of the issues addressed in the mandated police reform that was promoted by former Governor Andrew Cuomo in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Older seasoned officers might not have had such training.
Yet seasoned officers have years of experience, said the mayor, which she said is what makes them so valuable. New cadets just don’t have that kind of on-the-job-training to lean on and the years’ worth of contacts and resources veteran officers have accumulated.
phasing out the MPD?
Najdek, however, said she doesn’t want the MPD to mold every officer who walks through its door.
“I don’t feel Millerton has to be the training ground for new recruits,” she said. “A lot of them come here, work, and try to make a name for themselves and then go on to other agencies. This is circular, every few years there’s an issue with the police department, whether around click it or ticket, people getting pulled over; people start complaining.
“I don’t know where this is all stemming from. There’s a whole thread on Facebook. I heard, ‘They’re getting rid of the MPD’ — that’s not the intent of this board by any means. I don’t know if that’s everyone’s concern right now. I don’t know if that’s Mike’s concern right now,” she said.
“Absolutely, that’s a huge concern of mine and it should be a concern for residents because they could be relying on outside agencies that take half an hour to get here, or more,” said Veeder. “That’s a huge issue I’m having a hard time with. I want to provide for our residents the best I can.
“Like I expressed to the board, when we’re out here, even as a part-time agency, we’re here,” he added. “If there’s a big call, the New York State Police or the Sheriff’s Office aren’t dedicated to Millerton. If they have to go elsewhere in the county, that’s where they go. Millerton residents and North East residents have an agency dedicated just for them, which is good. Not many places have a police agency just for them… When people call 911 they want help right now, not in a half hour or an hour, they want it ASAP, basically it’s a safety thing for residents.”
In 2021-22, the total budget for the MPD came to $116,742.55. Of that figure, the portion the town of North East paid to the village for police services came to $26,500. The remaining portion that the village paid for amounted to $90,242.55.
Of that total police budget, $66,292.55 was appropriated to the police salary line, which made up approximately 57% of the department’s budget.
The pay scale for an officer with the MPD ranges from $17 per hour to $23.49 per hour.
Veeder described the pay as “on the low side” in Dutchess County, and said that’s one of the reasons why Millerton has such a tough time attracting new officers.
The Village Board approved a 3% salary increase for all officers in this year’s (2021-22) budget, with the exception of brand new hires, according to Village Clerk and Treasurer Kelly Kilmer.
The 10 officers on the MPD roster respond to about 30 to 50 calls a month collectively on average, which can range from domestic violence calls to burglary calls to drunk driving calls to missing person calls to vehicle lockout calls.
Veeder said he’s seen an increase in call volume this summer, especially in domestic violence calls and car thefts and break-ins. Whether that’s due to the pandemic, he’s not sure. It certainly indicates a need for more officers and recruits, though, not fewer, he said, whether they’re seasoned officers or new cadets.
“I had asked the board for their support, which I feel I haven’t gotten, and the community support, which is huge,” said Veeder. “So definitely, if community members out there feel they can talk to the board and express their concern, yeah, that would definitely help. We’ve seen this happen before, there was talk of this when I first started, then it calmed down. I don’t know what causes it, but it’s frustrating out there because we’re doing our job and doing the right thing and helping community members.”
Share your thoughts
So while Veeder is asking residents and businesspeople concerned about the issue to contact the mayor and Village Board members, Najdek said she, too, would like to hear from people in the community.
“Call me. Have a conversation with me,” said the mayor. “I don’t know all the answers but I would rather have the conversation with someone that has a question than have misinformation and rumor running around when people know how to contact me.”
To get a hold of Najdek, email email@example.com or stop by the Village Offices at 5933 North Elm Ave. (Route 22) in Millerton. One can also call 518-789-4489 and leave a message for the mayor of anyone on the Village Board.
To leave a message for Veeder or the MPD, stop by the Village Offices or call 518-789-6355.