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Legislature to consider funding a police services study

Money to pay for Erie County Sheriff's Office road patrols next year may depend on a study of how police services are delivered in the county.

The County Legislature will consider spending up to $250,000 on the study when it meets Thursday. If it gains approval, the measure then would go to the county control board.

The study of the services and how much they cost could take up to six months, but County Executive Joel A. Giambra said he hopes it can be finished before the 2008 budget must be finalized this fall.

"I'm hoping the Legislature will authorize the expenditure of funds to engage the consultant, and the consultant will be able to do their work expeditiously," Giambra said.

The study is the recommendation of the police commission created last summer after several towns objected to Giambra's proposal to eliminate the sheriff's road patrols.

But some legislators are concerned the study is designed with the foregone conclusion that one countywide police agency is the only recommended option.

"We don't know. We've never really examined it," said Central Police Services Commissioner Kevin J. Comerford. "It could come back and say what you're doing now is a great model; it provides service that's as cost-effective as any across the country."

Others wonder if the Legislature must approve the study to keep funding for the road patrols in the 2008 budget.

"We have agreed to cooperate with the study and support it, during which time the road patrol will be supported," Undersheriff Brian D. Doyle said.

Will road patrols be funded next year?

"That's the $4 [million] to $5 million question," Giambra said. "I am not making any commitments to fund or not to fund."

He said he would not guess on what would be in or out of next year's budget until it is known when the report can be finished.

The study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police would examine the delivery and funding of police services within Erie County and would include a component to measure quality of services, Comerford said.

Legislator Thomas A. Loughran, D-Amherst, said the county should prioritize its limited funds and perhaps spend the money to help address personnel issues in the Sheriff's Office or hire park workers.

"This administration has commissioned studies before, and when they got the results they didn't like, they just disregarded it," he said.

The study is a "waste of money" if it includes a provision for Erie County to take over policing the entire county, Legislator John J. Mills, R-Orchard Park, said. Voters from towns and villages would never approve abolishing all of their departments, he said.

Comerford said it costs $400 million to $450 million a year for the various police agencies to provide services throughout the county.

"We know how much we're spending," he said. "We don't know how well we're doing."


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