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Nov 20, 2012 10:49 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor Village Torn On Future Of Police

Nov 26, 2012 3:17 PM

Stuck in a stubborn stalemate with its police union over an unsettled contract, Sag Harbor Village has been making a lot of noise with recent talk of slashing its force and contracting with another police agency to serve the village—although Mayor Brian Gilbride said this week that the prospect of halving the department and bringing in outside cops to replace them is now less likely than simply laying off an as-yet-undetermined number of officers.

While bringing in an outside agency is still on the table, he said, he has been turning away from it, saying that it could be a difficult outcome to achieve, and that he may be able to accomplish the desired savings with layoffs. But as for how many, he replied: “I couldn’t even tell you that now. We’re still in the early stages.”

Despite seemingly swift moves over the past several months—the village sought proposals for police protection from Southampton Town, East Hampton Town and the Suffolk County sheriff’s office, drafted a contract with one of them, offered several senior officers a retirement incentive that not a single officer has accepted, and the mayor publicly estimated that a new agency could be running half the department by January 2013—Sag Harbor still does not have a specific vision for its police department’s future. Many questions remain, including how many officers it should have, whether it should contract with outside agencies, and if so, with whom, how that would be organized, and, ultimately, what the new bottom line would be.

Rather than unanimity, the Village Board members offer positions that span a wide spectrum of ideas. At one end is Mr. Gilbride, the most vocal proponent of cutting the size of the force to save money, and who has been pushing the union to have its members start contributing toward their medical costs.

At times, his exchanges with police brass have been charged. At a Village Board meeting on November 13, for example, when Police Chief Tom Fabiano, a 35-year veteran of the force who has argued with the board to leave his department intact, mentioned at the podium that he couldn’t see the small numbers printed on a packet of police budget information that the village had passed out, the mayor quipped, to laughter from the audience: “Then you shouldn’t be carrying a gun.”

On the opposite end is Village Trustee Kevin Duchemin, a sergeant in the East Hampton Village Police Department, and the union president there, who has said little on the issue in public meetings, but said in a phone interview this week that he prefers the status quo—as many residents have claimed they do as well, including one who has tacked a handwritten sign in the back of his car, stating “Keep Sag Harbor Village Police”—and notes the quick response time and importance of the village having its own force. Savings could come from a successful contract negotiation and one cost that should be avoided is one that would be incurred by going to arbitration, he said.

The other two board members have encouraged the board to explore the potential for savings but have not taken hard stances. Dr. Robby Stein said he has no favored vision yet and, acknowledging that police contracts are not his area of expertise, noted he is still in a fact-finding stage. Ed Gregory has said he is interested in saving dollars but has offered few details.

The department currently has 12 officers, all of whom except the chief belong to the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, whose most recent contract expired in June 2011. One officer, Michael Gigante, citing an uncertain future with the department, quit the department earlier this year.

In the background, meanwhile, are ongoing, private discussions between the village and the union, which are planning a closed-door meeting with the full Village Board on Tuesday, November 27. If the two sides fail to hammer out an agreement palatable to both come January, they will enter binding arbitration, for which they recently selected Roger Maher to serve as arbitrator.

“I would like to negotiate a contract with the Village Board in which both sides can walk away with something they can be proud of. That’s the ideal scenario,” said PBA President Pat Milazzo, adding that department morale has suffered in light of the uncertainty. “We don’t want to see any reduction in manpower. We don’t want to see an outside agency come in.” He has argued that the village could not bring in outside officers because Sag Harbor has a concept of exclusivity, meaning the Village Police has an exclusive right to all the police work in the village—an idea disputed by the mayor.

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