WESTFIELD - As the saying goes, town residents were able to get some answers, "straight from the horse's mouth."
Chautauqua County Undersheriff Charles Holder was in attendance at the Westfield Town Board meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 1 and answered questions from the audience for around 35 minutes. There were 15 people in attendance at the meeting and most came with a question for Holder.
The Undersheriff introduced himself to the audience, explaining he was at the meeting to answer questions and present facts regarding the sheriff's coverage and services.
Photo by Jenna Loughlin
Chautauqua County Undersheriff Charles Holder, left, attended the Wednesday, Feb. 1 meeting of the Westfield Town Board to answer questions regarding law enforcement in the Town. Also pictured, in the front from left to right: Town Attorney Joel Seachrist; Westfield Fire Department Chief Randy Edwards. Behind the bench, from left to right: board member Jim Herbert; board member David Spann; Town Clerk Tim Smith; and Town Supervisor Martha Bills.
"For starters, there is complete police coverage for the town," Holder said. "It doesn't matter if you have a contract with the Village of Westfield or not."
He went on to explain that the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Department, CCSD, currently has a closest car agreement with the New York State Police, NYSP, which means when a call comes into the CCSD office, whichever of the two law enforcement agencies has a car closest to the incident is the one that responds.
"I know most of the folks in this room, if you have an emergency at your house, you could care less what uniform shows up as long as the person takes care of the problem," Holder said.
However, the Westfield Police Department, WPD, is not part of this agreement.
"As of right now, we do not dispatch the Village of Westfield Police Department outside the village," Holder said. "It just doesn't happen. That is under direct orders from the Chief of Police here in the village and we honor that."
The first question from the audience asked how many cars the CCSD has on the road at any one time. Holder responded the CCSD has divided the county into four zones with Westfield, Ripley, Dunkirk, Mayville and Sherman all part of Zone 1. Within each zone, the CCSD assigns one car most days - he estimated 75 to 80 percent of the time - and in the event the CCSD only has three cars available for patrol, one car covers the northern part of Chautauqua County while the other two split the south part of the county.
The NYSP has four to 10 cars available during the day, and if the CCSD is short a car, it asks the NYSP to send one of its cars to cover a zone, but otherwise the CCSD has no control over where those cars are located. However, during the NYSP night shift, it has a minimum two cars, one patrolling the northern part of the county and one patrolling the southern part and some of Cattaraugus County.
Town Board member David Brown asked how many police are in the county at one time, including police forces from Busti and Lakewood as examples. That number is a moving target, Holder said, so he could not give a definite answer.
Another question came up regarding the Border Patrol vehicles often seen near Lake Erie and if those officers could respond to calls. Holder said they will often stop and help if they see the another law enforcement agency's traffic stop while patrolling Routes 5 and 20 between Erie, Pa., and Buffalo, but the Border Patrol is a Federal agency and thus does not have local jurisdiction. If the case arose, the Border Patrol could probably secure a situation, Holder said, but it would have to wait for a CCSD or NYSP officer to process the incident.
Town Board member and Deputy Supervisor Ray Schuster asked if the State Troopers who patrol the Thruway available to respond to calls in Westfield. Holder said the Thruway is its own troop which usually does not come off I-90 and their mission is traffic enforcement while the CCSD's major mission is public service and answering calls.
Town Board member Jim Herbert asked the Undersheriff to clarify his earlier statement that Village of Westfield Mayor David Carr had used misleading numbers when listing how many incidents the WPD had responded to outside of the village.
"My concern was that the numbers and the facts that the Mayor was bringing out to a lot of the townships, the numbers are incorrect," Holder said. "The amount of calls that we were dispatching to your township and any other township and villages outside the Village of Westfield are much, much lower than he is representing."
One example the Undersheriff gave was in 2011, the CCSD took 688 calls in the Town of Westfield while the WPD took 1,111 calls in the town. However, the CCSD only dispatched the WPD 43 of those times for 911 calls. Total, Holder said the CCSD dispatched the WPD 61 times for 911 calls outside of the Village of Westfield in 2011.
"The discrepancy is there because a lot of these numbers that they take are self-initiated numbers," Holder said. "They're taking calls, taking numbers, which is fine. And back then our dispatchers were usin' 'em and abusin' 'em. As long as they were willing to leave the village, why not give them a number? Why not give them a call if they're willing to take it? So they would take the call, they would sit and wait for our patrol car to get there and they'd help us out. ... But I totally understand what the Mayor is saying here, totally 100 percent. We don't have a problem with it. If the Mayor and the village doesn't want to send their cars out, we don't send them out."
Another question came up as to the fastest way to get a response from law enforcement for those living outside of the village. Holder responded dialing 911 is the easiest way because the CCSD can pinpoint a caller's location if they are on a cell phone or bring up the information on the house when calling from a landline phone, complete with the person's name, address and a satellite photo of the house.
"Don't be afraid to use 911," Holder said. "That is really the best number."
One audience member asked if the town receives revenue regardless of what law enforcement agency responds. Supervisor Martha Bills said the town does get some, but not a lot of revenue from tickets and Town Attorney Joel Seachrist said it does not matter what agency the arresting officer works for, but what court the offender is processed through. Holder added the CCSD gets no money.
Another audience member had a concern about the CCSD and the WPD communicating to each other regarding crimes each is responding to. He gave an example where the CCSD responded to a break-in at Forest Park, but when he spoke to the WPD Chief Robert Genthner a few days later, the Chief was not aware of the incident. Holder said the CCSD distributes an intelligence bulletin by email every day to day and a half to all the police departments in the county with all the big crimes, wanted people and who was released from prison. He added he would check with Genthner to make sure he was getting those bulletins.
A couple who called the CCSD to report a stolen vehicle a few weeks ago and waited two and a half hours for an officer asked what response time to a non-life threatening call is reasonable. Holder said the real question is what is a reasonable response time as a citizen and offered to look into why it took so long for an officer to respond. He added the CCSD prioritizes its calls and if there are more urgent calls, past-tense calls will be put to the back so the immediate calls can be dealt with first.
"You can only do so much too," the woman whose vehicle was stolen said. "All these criminals, thieves, know you can't cover it. The village can't cover it."
A board member pointed out robberies are not peculiar to Westfield to which the woman responded, "We've lived here 35 years, never had our house broken into. Don't, no. This is a new bad rash. This is worse than ever. ... I'm not new here."
Bills asked about special task forces and Holder explained if a series of crimes which occur in multiple municipalities, the CCSD will create a task force which combines the local law enforcements so information and resources can be shared to help solve the case.
When there were no more questions, Holder invited anyone interested to stop by the CCSD office in Mayville to see the dispatch center and how it is run or tour the jail.
"Some people do like to stop by and see where their tax money is going and what we do for the community," he said.
He also said if anyone has any other questions to call him at the sheriff's office at 753-4232.