GERMANTOWN — The town’s August decision to abolish the Germantown Police Department was upheld by voters Tuesday after a public referendum.
Town officials adopted Local Law No. 2 of 2018 on Aug. 7, but a permissive referendum with 76 signatures was put before the board Sept. 5, which put the law on Tuesday’s election ballot.
The law, which appeared on Germantown residents’ ballots as Proposition 1, received 490 “Yes” votes in favor of approving the measure and 372 votes to retain the police department.
“I believe that this is democracy in action,” Germantown Town Supervisor Rob Beaury said Thursday. “The people fulfilled their right to carry a petition and to hold a vote. The majority voted to abolish the police department.”
After residents voted Tuesday to uphold the board’s decision, a copy of the law was sent to the state secretary of state to finalize the measure, Beaury said.
“I voted against it, but now I wish it [the town police department] stayed in,” resident Skip Whitehurst said.
Whitehurst, 65, has lived in Germantown for 48 years and said he’s had issues with the number of people who speed while driving through town. A local police department would help to stop that issue, he said.
“Germantown is not the same,” Whitehurst added.
The public vote to abolish the police department comes on the heels of a letter the Germantown Town Board released prior to Election Day that stated the challenges with maintaining a town police force.
The letter, which was released Oct. 18, addresses the reasons behind the town’s decision to abolish the department.
“We are saving money and avoiding a very high risk of liability when it comes to owning a police agency,” Beaury said.
The background information in the letter starts from 2015 when town council members contacted Chatham Police Chief Peter Volkmann to conduct a review of the Germantown Police Department.
The board and police commissioners conducted a review of the department in 2015 and found several issues, according to the letter. In 2018, the town board authorized a feasibility study conducted by retired state police superintendent Harry Corbitt.
The same issues found in the 2015 review were present in the May 2018 review, according to the letter. Some of the issues include lack of trained personnel, problems with the facilities, incomplete or outdated policy manual, incomplete mandatory or recommended training, liability for the town and a disconnect between agency and community.
“As the second smallest town in Columbia County with a population of less than 2,000 full and part-time residents, the town of Germantown falls within the regular patrol areas of the two full-time agencies that provide law enforcement services to Germantown: the New York State Police Troop K, Livingston Barracks, and the Columbia County Sheriff’s [Office],” according to the letter.
Columbia County Sheriff’s deputies and New York State Police troopers will continue to patrol the Germantown area.
“The police coverage of Germantown is adequately provided by state police and sheriff’s office and always has been,” Beaury said.
Abolishing the police department was controversial and posed several challenges for town officials, including issues between former Germantown police officer-in-charge Brian Dubois and the town board.
Earlier this year, the town filed a lawsuit against Dubois, which was dismissed Aug. 15 by a Columbia County Court judge.
The Town Board started selling the department’s surplus equipment in September, including one AR-15 and two shot guns to the Columbia County Sheriff’s department for $900 dollars. The town also donated a second AR-15 to the Columbia County School Deputy Resource Program.
“The only material we still have is the ammunition and we are working for a federal fun dealer to dispose of that,” Beaury said Thursday.
The former Germantown Police vehicle was sold, Beaury said.
The Germantown Police Department is “above and beyond” what the town can afford, according to the town’s Oct. 18 letter. The town board estimates to save at least $30,000 through salary, insurance and equipment fees.