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.
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.