A public hearing Tuesday on Grand Island over “a proposed local law regarding the establishment of a police department” has caused a minor uproar in the town.
But the supervisor says it’s not what you think.
Since the notice was posted, Supervisor Mary S. Cooke said she has received several calls and emails from residents worried that the town is trying to create a full-time police department. They questioned the cost. Cooke reassured them that’s not what the town is doing.
Grand Island, Cooke said, is very pleased with the police protection provided by Erie County Sheriff’s Office, which has eight deputies and one detective stationed in the town.
Instead, Tuesday’s hearing involves two administrative adjustments related to the town’s current police force – a part-time unit that has been around for three decades to supplement the coverage provided by the Sheriff’s Office.
The first change would give the Town Board collectively the role of police commissioner rather than supervisor having that title individually.
“Since I’ve been supervisor, I take everything to the board, anyway,” Cooke said, “but if the supervisor didn’t have that kind of relationship to the board, that would be too much power in the hands of one person.”
The second change would involve establishing the position of police chief, which would be part time, Cooke said. Currently, two “officers in charge” carry out the duties of a chief. For administrative purposes when dealing with the state, it is better to use the title of “police chief,” Cooke said.
Grand Island will still have the same police budget – $214,450. “It won’t change anything,” Cooke said.
The Sheriff’s Office echoed her comments.
“She assured us this is just some necessary language changes and that they’re very happy with the service that the Erie County Sheriff’s Office provides,” said Scott E. Zylka, a sheriff’s spokesman. “She did not anticipate this changing our relationship in any way.”
As for the use of the word “establishment,” Cooke said, “that came directly from the attorneys, and we will certainly be talking to them in the workshop Tuesday night before the meeting.”
The wording has since been changed.
The Grand Island police force has been in existence for more than 30 years, Cooke explained. It includes nearly two dozen part-time officers who have been trained in other jurisdictions, she said, such as the Sheriff’s Office or the state Parks Police.
“We are an adjunct to the Sheriff’s Office, which is the main law enforcement on the island,” she said. “We run two shifts a day that can vary by the day, and we support the sheriff. We do a lot of community policing that the sheriff would not have time for.”
She noted that town police assist other police agencies at road checkpoints and emergencies. They have radar equipment to catch speeders, and testing gear to check suspected drunk drivers. Primarily, however, they do patrols, direct traffic and answer complaint calls.
During the school year, Cooke noted, “at 2:30, they’re at Ransom and Stony Point (roads, near the high school), pulling all the buses through the corner. Then they get the buses out of Sidway Elementary School. The bus drivers are appreciative.
“A lot of it is just being around. It’s mundane, but it makes all the difference in the world.”