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CENTRAL POLICE SERVICES TO STAY INTACT; SHERIFF'S UNIT GUTTED

Mayors and supervisors from throughout Erie County heard some good news Thursday: The level of services provided to police departments by Central Police Services will remain pretty much intact.

Also, basic patrol services by the Sheriff's Department will continue.

But the bad news was the sheriff's narcotics unit will be practically eliminated and traffic enforcement and use of the helicopter greatly reduced.

In the latest in a series of meetings to discuss how cities, towns and villages can cope with the county's budget mess, about 40 people, including elected officials and police chiefs, met in Hamburg Town Hall.

Kevin Comerford, commissioner of central police services, said contracts for his department to provide services meant the county had to find funding, so the impact was not as severe as originally feared.

The new public safety building will open and be staffed, the laboratory will continue to examine evidence, and the academy (after canceling one class) will resume training police officers, he said.

"The moral is you need a contract to guarantee services and not be subject to the whims of the budget process," Comerford said.

Amherst Police Chief John Moslow said, "I don't think people realize how important CPS is. It is mind-boggling to me that the county considered wiping it out."

Comerford said the 911 system was never in jeopardy but calls to it from wireless phones now account for more than 50 percent of the total. Only users of land lines, however, pay the surcharge to fund it, he said. Legislation to correct the situation is expected.

Undersheriff Timothy Howard said that while the budget is still in flux, basic patrol services are expected to survive, although response time might be greater.

But the narcotics unit has gone from 19 people to two and traffic enforcement from five deputies to two. Participation in programs such as DARE has been eliminated.

The helicopter pilot and co-pilot likely will be assigned to road patrols near the heliport and be called to fly only in emergencies, Howard said.

Maj. Michael Manning, Troop A commander of the State Police, said that there is excellent cooperation among police departments and that it will continue.

But the bottom line is fewer officers means there likely will be more accidents and more fatalities, he said.

West Seneca Supervisor Paul Clark, chairman of the meeting, said he was glad to hear that CPS will continue but said the virtual elimination of the narcotics unit is disturbing.

That is the type of cut that can have long-range consequences as the drug user who is not arrested continues to commit crimes to support his habit, Clark pointed out.

Howard said the Sheriff's Department will continue to provide traffic control at Buffalo Bills games but not at the Erie County Fair.

Hamburg Assistant Police Chief Carmen Kesner said he was hearing that for the first time. The sheriff has always provided two deputies for traffic, and Kesner assumes it will place a greater burden on his department.

email: ternst@buffnews.com

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