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CASH-STRAPPED COUNTY WRONG TO PUSH REGIONAL POLICING

I don't understand the bewilderment with the Cheektowaga and Amherst supervisors' rejection of the county executive's push for regionalizing town police departments. It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with county government's latest budget debacle and the excellent level of service and response of local community policing.

Why should local leaders buy into this concept? The county does not have the track record to persuade even the most open-minded local officials to change the way we do business. The County Legislature got the attention of local officials during the dysfunctional budget process, which nearly resulted in the gutting of Central Police Services. It left a bad taste in mouths of local officials, as it should. It was a preview to the future if regionalizing police services ever became reality.

Erie County's Central Police Services provides support services for police agencies throughout the county, and it was treated like just another county department during the budget crisis. The county academy was closed long enough then to force chiefs of police to turn to Niagara County for mandated basic training.

County government came dangerously close to turning its back on the second-busiest regional forensic lab in the state due to a lack of funding for lab personnel. At the eleventh hour, funds were restored, only after realizing that a binding contract with the City of Buffalo left the county no choice. Meanwhile, local police departments were scrambling to find a lab to analyze evidence.

If you are a fan of a regional county police force, please pay close attention to the drastic cuts to the Erie County Sheriff's Office. The county left towns that rely on the sheriff for police services with a diminished patrol presence and depleted special squads and support services. These are the same budget cuts that a regional force would be burdened with.

An advocate for regional policing should also check with the Village of Mineola mayor, Jack Martins. In a 2003 article in the New York State Chiefs' Association newspaper, the mayor said it was time to start a village police department to do what the cash-strapped Nassau County police could no longer do - protect his constituents.

There was a time when the residents of Mineola knew all the officers assigned to their village. Officers got out of their patrol cars to talk with residents and business owners. No one does that better in Erie County than local cops in their towns and villages. Town police departments were committed to "community policing" concepts long before the term became a catch phrase.

Local governments would be foolish to relinquish control of their public safety needs. Each year during the budget planning process, towns and villages with a police department determine the level and quality of policing they want for their constituents. From my vantage point, it would be inappropriate to leave this critical determination in the hands of a cash-strapped county government. Unless, of course, you couldn't care less if you see a police car on your street.

John J. Moslow Jr. is chief of the Amherst Police Department.