As an experienced law enforcement professional serving on the County legislature, I am becoming increasingly troubled by the heated dialogue surrounding the deployment and funding of two highly successful law enforcement initiatives – the Narcotics Task Force and the Intelligence Center. These are not merely “Countywide” units; they obtain invaluable assistance and extensive resources from a variety of State and Federal law enforcement agencies. The Intelligence Unit has brought in millions of dollars in forfeiture money, offsetting costs to taxpayers.
You hear a lot about Town municipalities insisting they get "reimbursed" from the County for providing officers to these units. In point of fact, this transfer of funds is a relatively recent dynamic, only going on for a few years.
Yet we in government know what is driving the issue of “reimbursement”; the Towns gaining a fairer share of sales tax collection. On that point, I certainly agree. But why the flashpoint now? The County Executive and Town Supervisor’s negotiations on that matter failed. I’m also told that agreements were broken; current Town budgets were compromised because of that; and a degree of animus now prevails.
Yet to have law enforcement become the poker chip in this disagreement is troubling to all of us, and even more so for me as the only member of the law enforcement community serving on the Legislature. I sympathize with the frustrations being expressed by my colleagues in Town and Village governments. Most know that I, as a minority legislator, have been one of the most prominent voices in trying to do things smarter in County government and addressing the financial missteps over the past few years.
As a cop who patrolled some of the toughest streets in the City, I am painfully aware that the good people any community are the true victims of crime and that activity is heavily influenced by external forces. The professional response? Deploy appropriate police resources and strategies consistent with the situation.
The mission of protecting the people of this County must not become subjugated to matters and disputes about other areas of funding. Fact - each and every town or village police officer serving in Rockland County is already hired, paid, and funded by respective town or village taxes that we all pay. In essence, “reimbursements” are double taxation for the same service.
Yes, you heard that right - “reimbursements” are double taxation for the same service. Payment of your Town tax bill pays for these officers from your right pocket, and adding to your County tax bill to “reimburse” the Town is money now coming from your left pocket.
That should crystallize the true issue – How and where do we deploy these officers? Do we want to utilize a task force approach? Share select personnel with innate understanding of specific areas and crime trends?
A recent enforcement effort in the Village of Haverstraw is a prime example. Nearly half of the enforcement activity is focused to need, and that is done correctly regardless of the fact that Town of Haverstraw is geographically 20% of the County. As a law enforcement professional and Clarkstown taxpayer, I am unequivocally supportive of that because crime knows no borders, whether they be Town or County. This makes sense because from a public safety perspective it is in all of our best interests to chase down these criminals who victimize our Rockland community regardless of where they hide.
Threats to remove Town officers from these units need to be calmly assessed with that perspective front and center. In this example, and in order to maintain the same margin of enforcement and public safety for the residents and businesses, that would only compel the direct hiring by the Town of Haverstraw of more officers, along with the attendant increase in taxes.
My suggestion? Everyone takes a step back and instead tries to focus on ensuring that our citizens are safe, as that is the first priority of any government. We cannot let this matter denigrate to a point where “whose budget is paying for a service” is the primary factor in governance.
The "County" is not paying for this; The "Town" is not paying for this; We the people are paying for this. Let’s never forget that each and every dollar comes from our taxpayers in one way or another, and we are simply talking about which pocket it’s coming out of.
We cannot allow a situation where a cop sees a “billing as more important than backup.” Are we going to bill out Arson, Bomb and Explosive, or BCI unit responses; Town departments lending assistance to another Town or County officer; responses by the Rockland County REACT team as done the other day in Orangetown?
The first step has been taken. The Town of Ramapo refused to pull their officers from these units. Not surprisingly, the driving force of my credo of a “public safety before politics” approach is none other than a fellow law enforcement professional, Councilman Pat Withers, who offered “it would be shortsighted for any town or village to withdraw from the Drug Task Force of Intelligence Unit."
I agree, and hope others will too. I believe that there will come a time that a broader agreement on matters such as the sharing of sales tax revenues can be achieved. But let’s work together here; meet each other half way; give a little; and work towards that goal without placing the public safety of our citizens at risk during that debate.
The writer, a Rockland County legislator representing New City and Pomona, is also a twenty five year veteran of law enforcement, having served as a Detective Commander in the N.Y.C. Police Department and Chief of Detectives in the Baltimore Police Department.