WESTFIELD - What started out as an attempt to renegotiate a police agreement between the Village and Town of Westfield has grown into a much larger issue.
The agreement, which was first adopted in 1993 and is re-signed every year, is for a minimum of 400 hours of law enforcement by the Village of Westfield Police Department (WPD) in the Town with the intention that most of those services occur during the months of May through September, primarily in the Barcelona Harbor area, for an annual fee of $10,200. However, the agreement also states the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Department (CCSD) is the primary law enforcement agency for the Town.
Westfield Village Mayor David Carr and others on the Village Board of Trustees no longer believe $10,200 is enough for this service, and in June 2011 he wrote a letter to Westfield Town Supervisor Martha Bills asking for the fee to be increased to $70,000. Bills responded formally in a letter in November 2011 saying the Town could not afford the suggested cost and requested the week of Nov. 28, 2011 as a good time for the two boards to address the issues of concern. Bills never received a response to her request for a face-to-face meeting.
"It's still an open offer," Supervisor Bills said.
There was another back and forth of letters in December 2011 in which the Town offered to increase its payment to $15,000.
In addition to asking the Town of Westfield for more money for police coverage, Carr has also - with the Village Board's blessing - contacted Brocton Mayor J. Dale Abram, Mayville Mayor Marty Bova, Portland Supervisor Daniel Schrantz and Ripley Supervisor Douglas Bowen via letters to open up a dialogue for feedback on the issue of the WPD responding to incidents in their municipalities. The letter also mentioned potential payment by these municipalities to the Village of Westfield for these services.
"I can see where Mayor Carr is coming from," Mayor Abram said, adding he remembers having a similar problem back when Brocton had its own police department. "This is nothing new. It's been going on for years. It's the nature of mutual aid."
"I understand where he's coming from," Supervisor Bowen said.
"I feel his pain, I really do," said Mayor Bova.
In response to Mayor Carr's concern that the WPD was being dispatched when sheriff's deputies should have been, the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Department has stated it will no longer be dispatching Westfield police to any non-emergency calls.
"In regards to Westfield PD, currently they are not being dispatched to any calls outside the Village of Westfield," Chautauqua County Undersheriff Charles J. Holder wrote in an email.
Additionally, Westfield Police Chief Robert Genthner delivered a memo to the Town which from the Chief and addressed to his patrols. The memo, dated Dec. 29, 2011, reads in full:
"Patrols, The Town contract has not been signed between the Village and the Town. So as of January 1, 2012 we will no longer answer calls or patrol in the Township. Without this contract we do not have the power to arrest in the Town. I only want you to answer Emergency calls in the Town of Westfield as we would if going to Ripley, Portland or any other Town. I do not want to see a patrol car in the Town of Westfield as of January 1, 2012 unless it is an Emergency call. Dispatch as been notified."
However, as part of Mayor Carr's campaign, he is claiming and disputing certain facts in a guest commentary, which can be found on page A3 of this edition, that others take issue with. For example, while Mayor Carr claims the WPD has handled 230 calls outside of the Village of Westfield, Undersheriff Holder wonders how many times the WPD was dispatched versus how many times WPD officers heard a call and chose to respond or offer assistance of their own volition.
"There is no doubt that Westfield PD was dispatched to calls outside their jurisdiction," Holder wrote in his email. "I do not agree with Mr. Carr's statistics as they relate to this matter. Upon my examination of the dispatch records it is clear that the occurrence of dispatching WPD officers are significantly less than what Mr. Carr is alleging. I believe that he does not take into account the numerous calls which WPD initiate on their own, that is to say they leave the village on their own 'self-initiate' law enforcement activity outside their own jurisdiction. We have no control over what WPD officers do. If they hear a call outside there own jurisdiction and want to respond, that is entirely up to them. Presently, they are not given calls outside the Village unless it is a true 'life or death emergency or officer needs assistance emergency call.' Whether the WPD officer goes is dictated by the policy of the WPD."
Additionally, while Mayor Carr claims not to have a record of the Town of Westfield asking for a meeting, the first response letter from Supervisor Bills clearly states a request and even suggests when a good time to meet might be, as stated above.
Finally, Mayor Carr questions why it took two and a half hours for the CCSD to respond to a call in the Town of Westfield a few weeks ago. When asked, Undersheriff Holder did not have enough information to look up the call, but offered this explanation.
"I can not comment on the issue of the 2.5 hour call wait which he referred to," Holder wrote in his email. "It is very difficult to pinpoint an alleged call with so little information. There could be many different reasons why this may or may not occur. Perhaps the complaint didn't want to be contacted until he/she got home, or it may have been a non-emergency call which was did not need immediate attention. I have no way of know which call it is with his vague description."
Ultimately, however, this recent controversy appears to be two separate issues to Supervisor Bills. One has to do with the agreement between the Town of Westfield and Village of Westfield for police coverage. The other is that 911 calls are going to Westfield police instead of to sheriff's deputies.
As far as the agreement goes, Supervisor Bills said the Town is not looking for coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but rather additional hours of protection during the busy time of the year.
"We never expected this to be full time," Supervisor Bills said.
She also said she feels the $15,000 the Town has said it is willing to pay the WPD is comparable to what the CCSD changes for its enhanced service, which was raised from around $28 dollars per hour in 2011 to $35.35 per hour as of Jan. 1, 2012.
In regards to WPD responding to calls in neighboring municipalities, the supervisors and mayors of those municipalities were unaware it was being done by the WPD and not the CCSD.
Supervisor Bills said she did not realize how many calls in the Town of Westfield were being answered by the WPD.
"I had no clue at all," Mayor Abram said. "It was news to me."
Supervisor Bowen said he was aware the WPD was responding on occasion, but was surprised as to how often that was the case.
Mayor Bova, who is also the training director for the CCSD, was surprised by the number as well, but when he looked at it further, he felt that all but three of the 22 calls Mayor Carr claims the WPD responded to in Mayville were for officers attending court or taking a prisoner to jail, not responses to incidents.
Undersheriff Holder wrote something similar in his email.
"Many of the calls which Mr. Carr alleges are 'calls for service' in other municipalities are not legitimate 'calls for service' at all," he wrote. "For example, WPD delivers a person they arrested to County Jail; the WPD takes an incident number for a call in the Village of Mayville. This is not a legitimate call for service in Mayville, nor were they dispatched to a call for service in Mayville. I have found hundreds of calls which are similar to these types of situations where Mr. Carr is using fictitious numbers to justify his position."
In terms of these municipalities paying the WPD went it responds to calls, budget issues and jurisdictional concerns were two major sticking points.
"I understand this costs tax payer dollars," Mayor Abram said. "It's a costly venture.
"We have no control over it," Mayor Abram said about who is dispatched by the CCSD to respond to a call. "How can we pay for something we have no control over?"
"We can't afford to pay both the sheriff and the Village of Westfield," Supervisor Bowen said, as Ripley has a contract with the CCSD for $30,000 of enhanced services. "For 2012, our budget's set and we have to live with it."
Mayor Bova said he has tried to get his board to contract with the CCSD for enhanced services in the summer, but it has never felt that was necessary. A former Westfield police officer himself from 1978-81, Mayor Bova said he also had concerns about the WPD having jurisdiction in the Village of Mayville, that there is a fine line as to what powers and authority the WPD would or could have in Mayville.
"We totally sympathize with his situation," Mayor Abram said, adding, "I don't think he's going to get any donations."
One thing many of the leaders of local municipalities agreed on was that the issue the Village of Westfield is having stems from a larger one. Westfield is now one of the few municipalities in the immediate area with a police force as Brocton, Ripley and Mayville have all been forced to get rid of theirs because they could no longer afford it.
"It's something that needs to be taken up at a regional level," Supervisor Bowen said. "I think the issue is bigger than the Village."
Mayor Bova believes part of the problem may be directly related to cuts in the county's budget over the last several years, which has affected the CCSD's budget and thus the amount of deputies it can hire.
Mayor Abram would like to see a change as to how mutual aid works in general, including shared fire, police and electrical services due to the inequity of the cost and does not balance out, though he admits he does not have the answer.
"I think it's time to get everyone together," Mayor Abram said.
Chautauqua Town Supervisor Donald Enhardt and Portland Town Supervisor Daniel Schrantz were contacted for comment on this story, but did not return phone calls before the deadline.