How much policing do we need?

We’ve been talking a lot lately in the newsroom about policing—specifically, about the level of policing a given town, village, hamlet or other entity needs.

Potsdam Police shoulder insignia. Source: Potsdam PD Facebook page

This is an old question, and increasingly, it’s been a really immediate one as communities deal with a serious need to cut costs in the wake of the Great Recession and the new state cap on property tax increases. When I covered the Village of Potsdam’s possible dissolution last fall (the village ultimately voted overwhelmingly not to dissolve), one of the big questions on people’s minds was whether Potsdam would be adequately policed if the village, and therefore the village police force, was disbanded.

Last week, Tasha Haverty looked at the Potsdam policing question again. Potsdam’s police chief left the job in January, and a sergeant took over the position.  The Village Board held a public meeting on May 21st to get public feedback on whether they should fill that position, or save some money by downsizing. Opinions at the meeting were split, but the new chief, Kevin Bates, wants to keep up numbers in the department.

Potsdam Village’s police department has gotten a lot of attention in recent months, and it’s complicated for Potsdam in particular to figure out how the village force fits in with the community’s larger policing strategy. Potsdam is home to two colleges, both with their own security departments, most of the town’s population is centered in the village, and much of it is comprised of students who are only around part of the year.

But Potsdam is not the only community in the North Country where the question of how to police has come to the fore.

Here are a couple examples, and I’m sure there are many, many more:

In March, the tiny Lewis County village of Lyons Falls (pop. 566 as of the 2010 census) voted to enact a new curfew that prohibited anyone under the age of 18 from being in streets, parks or other public places without an adult between 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The problem, Village Mayor Katie Liendecker told me, wasn’t that Lyons Falls has a problem with teenagers.  After a rash of vandalism in the village and in neighboring villages, “at least once a week”, town leaders found themselves without recourse for dealing with the teen offenders. Liendecker said the village “knew most of the kids that were responsible, and we’ve tried to talk to them and we’ve tried to talk to their parents, but we didn’t get anywhere.”

Lyons Falls doesn’t have a police department, so talking with the kids and their parents was more or less all the village could do. When that didn’t work, Lyons Falls went for what may seem like a draconian solution. But with the curfew, Liendecker hopes residents will be able to call in the county sheriff and get teenagers off the streets before any vandalism takes place.

Another example: In mid-May, the Courier-Observer reported that the town of Norfolk , near Potsdam, was considering putting up security cameras in its town arena. Apparently there have been three vandalism incidents this year in the Dominic Zappia Community Center.

At its monthly meeting, the town board discussed the issue and decided although the cameras would cost money, it might be less than the cost of repeatedly cleaning up, repairing and replacing things damaged or destroyed by vandals. By the way, Norfolk does have a police department, although it only operates by night. If you call before 7pm, you get the county sheriff.

So, here’s my question, and it’s a serious one (no Keystone Cops stories, please!). Communities in the North Country are organized in lots of different ways, and have different needs. So tell us: In your community or neighboring communities, do you have too little policing? Too few police? Or do you have too much policing, and/or too many levels of police (village, town, county, state, border patrol?) We’re looking to cover this in a broader way, and we would love your help. Thanks so much.

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15 Comments on “How much policing do we need?”

  1. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Speaking from Lewis County, it seems we have an excess amount of policing in and around certain areas of the county. Lowville, given it has a village police force, a state police barracks just outside of town, and the county sheriff’s office is also housed within the village and town of Lowville. On top of that, there’s the occasional border patrol road block. It’s amazing how many police vehicles one can observe simply driving around the relatively small county seat of Lowville.

    What I see as a bigger issue is how our police are utilized and compensated and the amount of money we spend duplicating services across all the layers of gov’t. On the one hand you have 80K starting salary (not counting health care, state pension, etc…) a year state troopers writing traffic tickets for seat belt violations, driving without registrations, inspections, etc., and on the other you have 20+ year veteran county and town police personnel who make 45 – 60K investigating child porn rings, running drug task forces, burglary, assaults, etc.. (you know, real crime) all while we have BCI on the state level doing the same. Then toss in the feds. who now are stationed all across upstate, NY in for one reason or another doing much the same “policing.” Toss in the incarceration costs and you have a huge, huge complex sucking tax dollars galore.

    My point is that with all the talk of consolidation in every other branch of gov’t, why is law enforcement not part of this “big picture” consolidation discussion? And I get that since 911 there’s been a huge growth in the domestic security apparatus (for lack of a better name) and bucket laods of federal money to maintain it all. But if we can talk about consolidating branches of gov’t and school districts, why not the multiple layers of law enforcement? I mention this not as a rant against those who choose this career, but because we need to reform and improve the way we deliver the much needed service of law enforcement.

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  2. Pete Klein says:

    Yes. Way too many levels of law enforcement.
    I’ll make a suggestion at the Federal level. Keep the FBI and CIA but get rid of the ATF, DEA and ICE.
    .

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  3. Mark says:

    We absolutely have too many layers of police.

    Canton, as the County seat, has both State Troopers and Sheriffs based here, along with the Village “police” and the respective police forces for each college. Furthermore, Border Patrol (the scrounge of any freedom loving county) also makes frequent drives through.

    A reduction in police would be warranted and result in absolutely no loss in services. Simply read the police blotters for Potsdam and you’ll see just how little really happens.

    Reduce police, reduce taxes, live happily ever after.

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  4. I think one of the fundamental differences between Potsdam and the other towns and villages in the region (except Canton) is that Potsdam is a college town. I think having 6,000+ college students in town creates a different policing dynamic.

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  5. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Watch the video on TV 7 from several months ago when one of our federal law enforcement agencies (in this case, I believe the Immigration Service) arrested the St. Lawrence county farmer for employing a couple of illegal aliens from Mexico. They came to arrest one guy, the owner. Instead of sending one maybe two cars with 4-5 agents, they sent a small armada. Multiple vehicles (gas guzzling full size SUV’s of course), probably 20-30 agents, armed to the teeth with body armor, etc…To be frank, it was embarrassing to watch and downright cringe worthy. Almost as bad as watching a politician take advantage of a photo-op or kissing a baby in the crowd at the county fair. This one news story is a perfect illustration of how out of balance our priorities are in this country ever since 911.

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  6. tootightmike says:

    Potsdam needs to cut the force size, and redirect the remaining officers to do the work that needs doing, WHEN it needs doing. We see the officers driving around in the morning, often two to a car, moving too quickly to actually see if anything is going on…which it isn’t. The students largely sleep until 10 or 12, having been out raising hell until 3 or 4 in the morning, so it’s not a high crime time of day. That shift could be cut entirely, and it might be months before anyone noticed.
    Same goes from the seasonal perspective…Potsdam is downright quiet this time of year. I tell folks that we live in an undiscovered paradise here during the summer. We don’t need 20 officers to protect us from the sun’s harmful rays.
    Granted, there’s a bit of policing that must be done to keep up with the drunks, wife beaters and child molesters, but I think a bit of rescheduling could cover it with less staff.

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  7. Pete Klein says:

    If Clapton,
    Wouldn’t it be fun to call the Border Patrol and inform them there are some guys from Mexico working on a farm, then have them arrive in force and learn the guys are from Mexico, NY?

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  8. Joe Public says:

    It is my thought that the colleges should help pay for the police services during the time college is in. It has been stated that 50% of the calls to the Potsdam Pd are college related…btw the colleges are tax exempt and pay very little twords the the services that they receive….

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  9. Joe Public says:

    And when I say they pay very little, I mean that SUNY is state funded and pay nothing as far as I can tell and Clarkson has almost 120 Million dollars in property and has exemptions on 119 million.120 Million is alot of value for a not for profit….it is time we think about this..

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  10. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Pete,

    Funny suggestion……Thing is, they’d probably fall for it given we’ve had a number of immigrant worker violations on a couple of our larger dairy farms here in Lewis County. On top of that, we recently had a migrant worker processing and selling false ID’s who was arrested just recently. If I were to mention Lewis County, they’d probably show up with their armada within minutes.

    I should add that my opinions on this entire matter should not be taken as denigrating those who are actual law enforcement personnel. It’s an important, vital, and dangerous profession in most instances. It’s just my opinion that we as a society need to take a serious look at the apparatus we’ve built and make it far more efficient and affordable while at the same time protecting the rites of all citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution. It seems to me in our zest to fight the drug war, secure our borders, catch terrorists, etc., we’ve trampled individual liberties and created a money hungry apparatus that rivals the military/industrial/congressional complex. If left unchecked, we’ll soon have a fifth branch of gov’t (the aforementioned complex being the fourth branch) with little to no over site and a citizenry powerless to contain it.

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  11. Larry says:

    We need more policing dedicated to quality of life issues. This last weekend we were treated to backyard bonfires spewing smoke, fireworks explosions late at night and underage children constantly lapping the village on a noisy motorbike, among other obnoxious activities. A call to “law enforcement” might yield a drive-by hours later, if at all. Must be they are too busy collecting revenue on the Northway from drivers who don’t change lanes in time.

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  12. Pete Klein says:

    If Clapton,
    For the most part I agree but I strongly believe too often we see cases of special units going overboard when “raids” are conducted. They act as though they are in some foreign country going after the Taliban. Oh, for the days of Gun Smoke when Matt could threaten with just his eyes and a six gun. But that takes real courage.

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  13. stillin says:

    Massena, NY. I now see approximately 10 cops a day. We have the State cops, the Village cops, Border Patrol, even the Sheriff drives around from where he comes I do not know. All I know is, I feel like I live in an occupied territory. Seriously, yes we border Canada and the Rez…yes there is smuggling…but I can guarantee you this, it’s not where the cops are. I see the same ones , in the same places all the time. Now here’s the really, really, funny fact. If you NEED a cop, tough, they are just too busy patrolling to really help.Trust that, but nah, I do NOT

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  14. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Pete,

    I agree. Which is why I mention the bust in St. Lawrence county of the dairy farmer. It was beyond over the top and almost like watching a Discovery Channel documentary of the DEA raiding a crack house. We spend countless dollars on this stuff but somehow can’t afford to staff our school districts, or build new infrastructure, or pave a section of road? I say again, there’s a tremendous opportunity cost associated with both complexes I mentioned above. And if you think about it, we here in the North Country are right in the heart of this insanity and literally are witness to exactly the kind of costs a society pays for allowing certain elements of gov’t to grow unchecked at the expense of other, just as vital elements of gov’t.

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  15. AdkGal says:

    There are way too many police in Potsdam and in Massena. This can be a bad thing if the police are harassing you for no reason at all…such as following you to check your plates or pulling you over for visiting from out of state. I remember when I moved back to the North Country for a short time, it was only 4 days until I got pulled over for going 8 miles over the speed limit. You seriously can’t fart sideways. I was surprised by the volume of police officers / troopers I would see on a regular basis. It felt like major overkill. Do you know that your tax dollars are paying all of these officers? Perhaps that is why it is so expensive to live in Potsdam. Potsdam needs a drug task force to make sure college kids are buying / selling drugs and they also need to focus on educating the North Country about sex crimes against children since that seems to be a re-occurring issue. Enough with the police state already.

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