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Germantown abolishes police dept. amid controversy

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The Germantown Town Board voted unanimously to abolish its police department Tuesday night.
August 8, 2018 11:58 pm Updated: August 9, 2018 10:06 am

GERMANTOWN — The Germantown police force passed into history Tuesday after the town board voted to abolish the department. Town officials then voted to file a lawsuit against the department’s officer-in-charge.

The law was adopted immediately after a second public hearing. The first hearing was held July 18.

“The decision to abolish the police department was difficult to come to for all the board members,” Germantown Town Board Supervisor Robert Beaury said Wednesday. “Ultimately, the vote was taken unanimously. We believe we are acting in the best interest of the community.”

The law is subject to a permissive referendum. If residents sign a petition and delivered it to the town clerk within 30 days of the board’s decision, the matter will be put on the ballot for a vote in the general election Nov. 6, Beaury said.

The Germantown Police Department, based at Town Hall at 50 Palantine Park Road, had one part-time officer, Brian DuBois, who is listed as the officer-in-charge of the department on the town’s website. The department also had one vehicle.

Peter Schuyler, DuBois’ attorney, said the decision to disband the police department was the result of longstanding animosity between Beaury and DuBois.

DuBois has been a member of the Germantown Police Department since 1995.

“There is definitely some personal agenda involved,” Schuyler said.

Two separate petitions have been made to the court – with a third on the way – to prevent DuBois from possessing firearms.

Beaury, on behalf of the town, petitioned county court June 1 to bar DuBois from possessing town-owned firearms, including automatic firearms possessed by the Germantown Police Department. Town officials did not specify why they think DuBois cannot have firearms.

But only the town board or police commissioners have the authority to make that request, Schuyler said, adding Beaury’s personal agenda fueled him to file one of the petitions.

Schulyer filed a motion in opposition to Beaury’s request, stating the request must come from the police commissioners or town board.

The town passed a resolution Tuesday in a brief executive session to file a lawsuit against DuBois, town attorney Corinne Smith said at the meeting.

Smith, a partner at Whitbeck, Benedict & Smith, LLP in Hudson, read a statement on behalf of the board saying the town suit against DuBois seeks to suspend his access to town-owned firearms.

Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka requested county court judges revoke DuBois’ pistol permit based on a chain of emails between DuBois and Beaury, according to court documents. Several town board members were copied on the emails.

Czajka claimed DuBois sounded despondent, or depressed, in the emails he sent to fellow town officials, according to a letter Schuyler filed in court.

“Although, the people are unaware of any authority for our request, we respectfully submit that the circumstances require immediate intervention,” according to a letter Czajka wrote included in court documents.

The county court temporarily suspended DuBois’ pistol permit pending a hearing Sept. 17, Schuyler said.

In a May 23 email to town officials, DuBois claimed someone entered his office without his knowledge and placed the contract between the town and Corbitt to investigate the police force on his desk. DuBois requested to see video footage of the person who put the contract in his office, according to his email.

“I am not sure how it got on my desk and have put out a call to Rob [Beaury] to see if he might have any idea of how it got there, but as per the town of Germantown Security Policy, I would like to view the video to find out who, unlawfully entered my office and how Mr. Corbitt’s portfolio got left on my desk,” according to DuBois’ email.

In one email, DuBois wrote he was up since 2 a.m. on June 1, saying, “He was sick to death of this stuff,” referring to the tenuous relationship between town officials and his department.

Beaury and Czajka declined to comment Wednesday on the lawsuit and Schuyler’s claims, saying the case is pending.

“If the district attorney is making such a determination [about DuBois’ access to firearms], then I am sure they did an adequate investigation into revoking his pistol permit,” Chatham Village Police Chief Peter Volkmann said. “That is something that is not taken lightly.”

DuBois was put on paid administrative leave June 1 from his position with the Germantown Police Department pending a full review of the loss of his pistol permit and pending other issues surrounding his employment. He was also barred from accessing Germantown Department weapons.

In the meantime, DuBois was ordered to not go to Germantown Town Hall except during normal business hours and was strictly prohibited from entering the office used by the police department.

Damon Filli, a second part-time officer, was hired at the beginning of the year, but his appointment was rescinded because he did not take oath of office within 30 days as required by state law, Beaury said.

The department’s demise will not lead to less police coverage in town, Beaury said.

“We are covered by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and state police at no additional charge,” he said. “Those services are provided to every municipality. We have entered into an enhanced agreement with sheriff’s office for court’s security.”

Court officers typically work Wednesdays for three hours, Beaury said.

Germantown police clocked 431 hours in 2017, according to meeting minutes. Germantown police did not patrol in 2018.

The Germantown Police Department has been a part of the community since 1973.

The town would save about $32,000 annually by abolishing the local police department, Beaury said July 23. DuBois made $17 an hour, while Officer Damon Filli was paid $15 an hour.

The decision to disband the police department comes on the heels of a critical report from retired state police superintendent Harry Corbitt, who prepared a Police Assessment Report dated June 26. Beaury requested the assessment, according to Corbitt’s report.

Corbitt recommended the department refrain from engaging in police services because of deficiencies the department had no area conducive to processing a suspect or conducting interviews, no one monitored transmissions broadcasting on the police scanner, no records indicated police were trained in first aid or CPR, the use of force, de-escalation or firearms for the officer in charge.

“Significantly, it appears the department is not and has not been complying for several years regarding the submission of mandated annual filings to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services,” according to the report.

Volkmann completed an assessment of the department in 2015, but did not hear feedback or progress about his assessment, he said Wednesday, adding residents should decide what is best for their town in regards to police protection.

“There are good parts and deficiencies in all types of agencies,” Volkmann said. “Local police can best address quality of life issues, but local police does not have the resources that the county and state police have.”

The town board received Volkmann’s report March 23, 2015. It contained several recommendations regarding the local police force, which were not adopted nor implemented, according to the report.

“Frankly, the town board knew that the police department was problematic based on a 2015 assessment and failed to take any action to rectify the issues stated therein,” according to Corbitt’s report.

Reporter Logan Weiss contributed to this report.