The Lancaster Town Board voted Monday to add three officers to its Police Department in an effort to combat what police describe as a heightened drug problem within the town, particularly among young people.
The new officers would each receive a starting salary of $48,250, not including employee benefits, said Supervisor Robert Giza.
"We're trying to be proactive," he said. "We're trying to fight this drug problem, and hopefully we'll win."
Capt. Tim Murphy, head of the Detective Bureau, said his officers have witnessed a dramatic increase in drug investigations over the past two years.
"If we continue at the same rate we've been going, our narcotics cases could double in the next year or come pretty close to doubling," he said. "Right now, we have the same number of cases as of the end of June as we had all of last year."
Last year, detectives handled 46 narcotics cases, Murphy said, many involving prescription drugs and heroin.
In response to police and public lobbying, board members agreed Monday to hire more officers, enabling the Police Department to create a new narcotics unit with two detectives. The officers would be responsible for investigating any incoming drug complaints.
The hirings would also enable an officer to be assigned to Lancaster Middle School as a school resource officer addressing drug issues and prevention among young teens. But the Lancaster Central School District board recently tabled a resolution to add the position.
The district already has a full-time officer at the high school and covers half the officer's cost. If the district adds a school resource officer to the middle school, it would again have to split the cost of the position with the town.
"They want some studies done or some backup material to justify it," Giza said.
Giza said the three new officers are town residents Ronald Smith, Joseph Sobaszek and John Zimmerman.
The hiring of these trainees will enable the police to move more experienced officers into the new narcotics unit and to the middle school if the School Board agrees.
The police Detective Bureau currently has five officers, Murphy said, so the addition of two narcotics detectives would increase the bureau by 40 percent. It would also free up the other detectives to focus on other criminal investigations, which have risen overall by 20 percent to 30 percent over the past five years, he said.
Murphy added he hopes to have the narcotics unit in place this fall but may have to wait until the end of the year after the three new officers complete their training.
Giza said the hirings show that town leaders recognize a drug problem exists. But when pressed, he said he couldn't characterize the severity of the problem because he didn't have any statistics.
"I wouldn't ask [for the positions] if we really didn't think there was a problem," Police Chief Gary Stoldt said. "The detectives have a stack of stuff on their desk involving drugs that they can't even get to."