OGDENSBURG — Law enforcement leaders in St. Lawrence County are scrambling to figure out what a policing consolidation proposal reportedly presented by the city manager means for their agencies.
Several law enforcement leaders in the county said Wednesday they were unable to fully comment on City Manager Stephen P. Jellie’s purported proposal to have the county sheriff’s office replace city police officers. They said they had only a vague understanding of how it would be implemented or what it means for their agencies.
The confusion comes on the heels of a report from 7 News on Tuesday night that Mr. Jellie said he was floating the idea of replacing city police officers with county sheriff’s deputies.
“I’d like to look at all the options,” Mr. Jellie told 7 News. “Whether we pay the sheriff for support here in Ogdensburg. Whether the sheriff provides administrative support. Whether we have a smaller police force doing more community policing type things and we look at the sheriff’s department and state police taking over more of the major and significant crimes.”
The quote does not indicate further comment from Mr. Jellie about replacing city police officers with sheriff’s deputies, but states he’s considering downsizing the police force and relying on the sheriff’s office for investigations into bigger crimes.
“My interview yesterday (with 7 News) was intended to provide community awareness to the significant activities the City of Ogdensburg would like to study and analyze for the most efficient means of providing service with St. Lawrence County,” Mr. Jellie said in an email Wednesday afternoon.
City Police Chief Robert H. Wescott said Wednesday afternoon he was informed by Mr. Jellie earlier in the day that the 7 News story was only a “small part of a larger conversation” about shared services between the city and the county. He also said he was told that all departments across the city are being looked at for shared services.
Justin R. Polniak, president of the Ogdensburg Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said Wednesday that it’s too early to say what the union will do as the 7 News story “did not display enough facts to offer a rebuttal,” and after reading a letter from the St. Lawrence County sheriff and speaking with the city police chief, the union will “assess the situation as it moves forward and respond when it is possible and necessary.”
Following Tuesday night’s report, the sheriff’s office issued a response Wednesday claiming it has not been briefed on the idea.
In a letter to media Wednesday morning, Sheriff Brooks J. Bigwarfe said he would like to “clarify” that no one from the city has contacted him or other members of his office to discuss or gain input on the possibility of the sheriff’s office taking on law enforcement duties to replace city police.
Mr. Jellie said he and County Administrator Ruth A. Doyle have discussed shared services and the consolidation of services between the city and county since last fall, but there has been little progress.
There are a total of eight initiatives listed in his shared services proposal, some of which are in progress, some of which cannot move forward until the county acts, he said. One of the studies Mr. Jellie hopes to initiate is law enforcement consolidation between city police and the sheriff’s office.
“We must act collectively and expeditiously to reduce the cost of government services and reduce redundancy and duplication creating unnecessary tax burden on our residents,” Mr. Jellie.
Sheriff Bigwarfe said it would take “tremendous resources” to “fill the void” of not having a city police force that’s specifically focused on issues inherent to a close knit population.
“The Ogdensburg Police Department is an integral part of our law enforcement community and plays an important role in the County’s Drug Task Force and in combating the County’s increasingly dangerous issues of the drug epidemic and violent crimes that are being committed. If we can’t maintain a sufficient public safety workforce, not only do communities suffer but the overall safety of its citizens are at risk,” the sheriff said.
Chief Wescott said he appreciated the sheriff’s comments and his support of the city police force.