Source: The Independent

October 03, 2012

The Matter Of The Sag Harbor Village Police

It is certainly a prudent thing for an incorporated village to explore alternatives when it comes to village services, be it police or highway department or anything else.

In Sag Harbor, the village is toying with hiring Suffolk County Sheriffs to take over part, if not all, of its police protection. We can think of other places where it would be prudent to do the same thing – Quogue and especially Westhampton Beach, where officers sometimes run amuck, for example. In Westhampton Beach the police chief is one of the highest paid in the entire country, and that is proof positive the village is wasting taxpayers’ money and has been for years. Greenport Village is policed by Southold Town Police, and that arrangement seems to be working.

Sag Harbor officials said it could save about $1 million a year if they availed themselves of the county officers – that would mean getting rid of the 12 current village officers, either through early retirement incentives or layoffs.

Mayor Brian Gilbride wants to use the county sheriffs, but keep a local presence – six officers. If the other six want to accept early retirement, that would still save taxpayers significant money.

There is more to the story, though. Every village is unique, and Sag Harbor has always been fiercely independent. Cops and folks on the street are on a first name basis, and there’s something to keeping that small town charm intact.

The village and the local PBA have been in a stalemate on contract negotiations, and the feeling initially was village officials were using the prospect of hiring outside police as a negotiating ploy. Clearly, it has gone beyond that.

Local police, like teachers, have benefited by generous contracts that allow arbitrators to resolve disputes. Unfortunately, the arbitrators traditionally compare contracts with those of neighboring municipalities or school districts. Over the years that has basically translated to ever increasing salaries, to the point where police and teachers hereabouts rank among the highest in the country in terms of pay – cops in New York City, for example, top out at half the pay our local cops do, and their jobs are far more demanding.

There is nothing wrong with being fairly compensated, and during good times taxpayers were happy to pay. Now, the economy has tanked, schools and municipalities face budget caps, the cost of retirement and health benefits continue to soar, and taxpayers are fed up. Prudent union negotiators would be wise to come to grips with this new reality, and some have.

As it stands, though, it would be unfair to excise any job with such short notice. We urge the village, if it decides to go with outside police protection, to phase it in gradually, as officers (and the chief) reach retirement age. If some opt to take early retirement, so be it.

We suspect Sag Harbor Village residents really want to keep the current force intact, and we urge the village board to ask the public to sign off on any move to replace the local guys. Put it to a vote, and let the taxpayers decide for themselves if saving a few bucks is worth having strangers police our streets.