The Salem Lakes Village Board Wednesday agreed to move forward with hiring sheriff’s deputies as independent contractors for water patrol and pursuing the creation of a civilian code enforcement staff.
The direction came at a special meeting. Trustee Laura Francart was absent, but excused.
If both of those plans come to be, it appears to be the end of the Public Safety Department, which used sworn officers that carry weapons to enforce ordinances and perform water patrol. A majority of the board last week voted to suspend the operation of that department. That suspension remained intact after Wednesday’s meeting.
Sheriff David Beth was in attendance and said he polled his deputies about interest in working directly for the village as water patrol officers. Within 24 hours, he said he had seven individuals interested in the work, including some with experience in Salem water patrol and with supervising and organizing water patrol.
Because these deputies would be hired directly by the village as independent contractors, they would not need to be paid their deputy wages, Beth said, but they would retain all of their arrest powers as deputies. Beth added that he also would authorize them to use their Sheriff’s Department radios, weapons and other personal equipment while working for the village. The village, however, would provide boats for patrol.
At the direction of the board, village administrator Patrick Casey said he would meet with the deputies soon in an attempt to organize patrol to begin by Memorial Day. If board approval of some aspect is needed before the next scheduled meeting on May 8 a special meeting could be held.
Casey also said he needed to check on whether any individuals were contracted or scheduled already to work water patrol under the Public Safety Department.
What to do for code enforcement seemed less certain.
Beth said code enforcement could be done by the deputies that will be working in the village under the village’s law enforcement contract with the Sheriff’s Department. Such work is a routine part of the work done by deputies in other contract communities such as Paddock Lake, Bristol and Somers.
“We do that all the time,” Beth said. “The situations you are bringing up, that’s what we do every day.”
Village President Diann Tesar and Beth sparred over whether deputies will do code enforcement well.
Tesar expressed doubt that deputies will do code enforcement for matters such as property maintenance violations and junk vehicles in yards.
“I know they don’t want to do the ordinance enforcement,” Tesar said to Beth. “I just don’t see them wanting to do the ordinance enforcement.”
Countered Beth: “I disagree 100 percent.”
Among the rest of the board there seemed to be strong sentiment for setting up a civilian department for code enforcement that could call on assistance from deputies when needed. Trustees Mike Culat, Dan Campion, Ted Kmiec and Bob Raymond all expressed support for some form of civilian code enforcement.
Personnel for civilian code enforcement could come from people formerly employed for public safety, Culat suggested, though they would no longer be acting as sworn officers.
The board decided to give code enforcement more consideration at future date. In the meantime, Casey suggested that deputies be used for code enforcement as issues arise.
Salem’s Public Safety Department was the subject of some controversy among Town Board members last year when board members learned that the department had been accepted to a grant program to increase traffic enforcement. That program required a certain number of contacts per shift covered by the grant. Consequently, officers were doing more traffic enforcement, especially along Highway 50, than in the past. Officer Michael Ventura died in a crash on July 8 on Highway 50 while driving a Public Safety Department vehicle. The town withdrew from the grant program in August.
In November, with the merger of Silver Lake and Salem in process, the Silver Lake Village Board created a Public Safety Department from the old Salem department, though with some apprehension from trustees about the scope of powers.