Is having a police commission, which is not very common, a good thing? My gut is "yes," but I agree that it doesn't work as well as it could. The commission is two broad areas of concern, as I recall:
- fiscal issues such as the departmental budget and personnel promotions, and
- personnel issues, like promotions and citizen complaints.
A side note here: this is a recollection because I couldn't easily find it on the town web site. I didn't see the link to the town code anywhere obvious, but that thing's search function is so horrible I would rather have the law quoted right on the police commission's portion of the town site.
Five volunteers aren't really able to do both of those jobs justice, and I think they're both critical to maintaining a thoroughly transparent and absolutely right-sized force.
- Given the size of the budget, I think it's worth making sure that financial professionals, the kind that will probably never get elected and is willing to work for free, look over this immense spending plan.
- At the same time, having a group of people reviewing complaints makes sure that monitoring our protectors doesn't get lost in the wash of town business.
Jeff Logan says that "more government doesn't equal better government," and I imagine he disagrees with his father on the issue of consolidation, but I digress. More government is a problem if it prevents things you want to encourage, or encourages things you want to prevent. A citizen board reviewing complaints makes it easier and faster for a citizen to register one, and for the officer to have the matter resolved. The fiscal oversight in no way slows down the town's budget process - the police commission found savings which weren't implemented because the budget wasn't passed on time. More government in this case means better service for the same cost. What's the down side? The town council is reviewing a thoughtfully prepared budget?
I agree with Ira Margolis that the commission isn't perfect. There's too much emphasis on money, at times, and not enough on the long-term consequences.
- Jeff Logan called the donation of a new police dog "the gift which keeps on taking."
- Our local police, like departments nationwide, have strong incentives to prioritize crimes which will generate income. Specifically, they get to keep money and property seized in drug crimes, or some portion thereof. It's the flip side of "running a government like a business:" some crimes are literally worth more to the police than others.
- Every part-time officer we've hired has eventually become full-time. Part-timers are hired because hey, they're so much cheaper because there's no benefits to pay. Too bad it never stays that way.
- Giving SUNY security police status created another police force in the heart of our community, one which has no citizen oversight and heightens the sense that the college is apart from New Paltz. Better to have them pay for the same police protection as the rest of us, just as they do for fire protection.
With the dual responsibilities the commission has, these kinds of decisions and events don't get the scrutiny they deserve. Should we be mitigating for the external pressures on our police? Do we consider the logical progression of our own decisions?
I'd rather see the commission stay. The fact that they've annoyed our elected officials shows they're looking deeper than expected, and I like that.