Law enforcement officials from across Rockland County assembled on Thursday to ask the to preserve sheriff’s department program threatened with elimination in the proposed 2012 budget. They warned of serious impacts to public safety if the cuts go through and a loss of 50 years of law enforcement advancements.
“The first responsibility of any public official is to ensure the safety of those he serves,” said Sheriff James Kralik at the morning press conference in front of the county office building. “With this proposed budget that has been offered to the county legislature, that responsibility has been completely ignored. Every shared service that has been so successful over the past years will be rendered ineffective and completely eliminated.”
The sheriff said the consequences could be dire if the cuts go through. According to a released statement, “The proposed budget presented to the Rockland County Legislature will literally dismantle almost all public safety services provided by the Rockland County Sheriff’s Police Division.”
The county faces a $52 million deficit. The proposed budget cuts the transport unit and calls for an additional $3 million reduction of the department’s budget in addition to $1million of cut the department came up with. Kralik said the transport unit made up of part-time retired police officers costs $1.2 million annually but replacing them with fulltime police deputies from the department’s police division would raise the yearly cost to $5 million. He described that decision as “so illogical that I cannot comprehend it.”
Kralik said if the current transport unit employees are laid off then 30 fulltime police deputies would have to be shifted to take over that operation. To reduce the departmental budget by $3 million, another 30 police deputies would lose their jobs. The impact would fall on the police division because the sheriff’s other divisions are required. The corrections division operates under a state mandate and the civil division is constitutionally required as part of the county’s judicial system.
In addition to the elimination of the transport unit, the proposed budget would remove or reduce the:
- BCI and CSI Units
- Arson Squad
- Computer Crime
- Bomb Disposal and Explosive Detection
- Mounted Unit
- Marine Unit
- Polygraph Unit
With the shifting and layoffs of police deputies, their current responsibilities would end including:
- Countywide patrols
- Security of county-owned properties
- Loss of about $400,000 collected through traffic enforcement
- Absence of additional manpower for special operations, emergencies and events
District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said he understands the need for government to have a balanced budget and to determine what are essential and non-essential services.
“In this situation, we’re talking about the cutting of essential services that will impact the public safety of the residents of Rockland County,” he said. “Make no mistake about it. This is not a simple non essential service with no impact.”
Sheriff’s Police Division Chief and Sheriff-elect Louis Falco said it might not be too farfetched to imagine a headline on January 1, 2012: “Law enforcement comes to an end in Rockland County.”
The police chiefs, district attorney and sheriff’s department are meeting with the county legislature on Tuesday, November 22. In the meantime, other steps are being taken. Police chiefs have been speaking with their local legislators about what the impact of the cuts would specifically mean to their communities. Zugibe said he will discuss contingency planning with the police chiefs. Kralik reached out to the state police because he said the county would need their help.
“They will not be able to do what we do,” he said. “They will do what they can.”
County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef spoke to the police chiefs afterwards and said the 10 percent cut of the sheriff’s budget is basically the same as for other departments.
“It’s with a heavy heart that we go through this process,” said Vanderhoef. “This is an extremely difficult budget. All of the options are not good. The only thing you can do is raise revenue.”
He said if additional revenue could be raised, it should go to law enforcement. The legislature took a tentative step toward that possibility when it voted to hold a public hearing on exceeding the two percent state property tax cap. The public hearing will not be held until its Tuesday, December 6 meeting when it is scheduled to vote on the 2012 spending plan.
Falco said law enforcement’s portion of the $701.8 million county budget is eight percent. $650 of the average homeowner’s tax bill goes to law enforcement with $25 funding the sheriff’s police division.