With police department contract negotiations at a standstill, the Sag Harbor Village Board is looking more closely at a Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department proposal that could eliminate at least half of the officers currently employed by the Village.
Mayor Brian Gilbride said the Village Police Department has done an excellent job, but the costs of retirement and medical benefits are soaring, so something has to change, even if department salaries remained exactly the same.
“This has gone beyond that,” Gilbride said of Police Benevolent Association demands for a 4.5% raise and fewer workdays. “This is an argument that has to take place,” he said, noting that with recent increases to retirement, the average salary on the force is $182,000, including $19,000 in annual medical benefits. “Sag Harbor is a great little community that doesn’t have a lot of growth left in it,” Gilbride said, describing a village budget stretched to its limit.
In their search for a solution, the Village Board looked at sharing police services with both East Hampton and Southampton Towns, but the Sheriff’s Department gave the best quote, Gilbride said. The mayor said he met with the Sheriff twice and had a few phone conversations, which led to a proposal that could cut costs and offer Sag Harbor similar police protection to what is currently in place.
Ideally, Gilbride said he’d like Sag Harbor PD to share policing responsibilities with the Sheriff’s Department, but the Sheriff’s proposal doesn’t call for any local cops to remain. Instead, the proposal suggests having two Sheriff’s Department cars patrolling the village daily from 8 a.m. to midnight, just a single car from midnight to 8 a.m. Sunday–Thursday, and two cars from midnight to 8 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Sheriff would provide the cars and bill additional services, such as detectives and marine patrol, provided on an hourly basis as needed.
When two cars are on duty, Gilbride said one of them could park in town so the Sheriff’s people could patrol Main Street on foot and introduce themselves to local businesses. The Sheriff could also provide extra cars and officers during parades and other community events when necessary. “They realize we do community policing,” he said, noting that they would have a presence at schools and other key locations. The Sheriff’s Department would operate out of Sag Harbor police headquarters and use its lockup facility, and they would write tickets on village pads.
If the responsibilities were shared, as Gilbride hopes, he said the Sag Harbor Police Department would likely be reduced from 12 to 6 officers and they would split patrol shifts with the Sheriff’s Department. “The force of 12 with the chief is definitely a summertime force,” the mayor said, noting that he’d like to look at a winter force to cut costs. He also pointed out that because the Sheriff’s Department would use its own cars, the number of Village PD vehicles could be reduced, lowering insurance costs and adding revenue from the sales.
He said current Sag Harbor PD Chief Tom Fabiano would remain in place, but the Board planned to offer him and three other senior officers retirement incentives at the Village Board meeting on October 9. (Information from the meeting and details about the incentives were not available at press time.)
The Sheriff’s Department already does some work with evictions, foreclosures and transporting prisoners on the East End, and Gilbride pointed out that Village residents pay into those county operations, so the Sheriff might have jurisdiction to operate in Sag Harbor without an inter-municipal agreement. If not, he said the County Legislature would have to approve such an agreement. The Board voted 3-1 to have Village Attorney Fred Thiele draft an inter-municipal agreement, and the retirement incentives, last month. Gilbride and Trustees Ed Gregory and Robert Stein voted in favor of the draft, Kevin Duchemin voted against it.
Gilbride said he’d prefer not to be part of this fight with his own police department, “but it happened on my watch and I’m going to do the best for the village.” He acknowledged tough times are ahead and people could lose their jobs, but his motivations are not personal.
On Monday, Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano called Gilbride’s plan “the most ridiculous thing that could ever happen to Sag Harbor.”
He noted that Sag Harbor PD already has one-man shifts, and cutting back the force would hurt its efficiency. “What are you going to do in the summertime? I just shake my head in disbelief.”
Fabiano said the officers from the Sheriff’s Department are good police and would likely do a fine job in Sag Harbor, but his force is already working hard for the village. He said members of the force are already considering resigning and moving on to other departments because they currently have no job security. “This is not a joking matter,” Fabiano said, explaining that he’d feel better about any change if it were the will of the people of Sag Harbor and not just a few members of the Board.
After 35 years on the Village PD, Fabiano said he’s dumbfounded by what’s happening. “Do I take it personal? You better believe I do.”