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Another Voice: Sheriff's road patrols need to be funded fairly

By Michael Thorp

A recent Another Voice contribution by Cheryl St. George, chairwoman of Evans Taxpayers United, and Stan Radwan, a retired police officer, highlights a long-standing funding inequity in paying for the Erie County Sheriff’s Department Road Patrol Division. They espoused the cost advantage of having the Sheriff’s Department replace the Town of Evans police force, an established police agency, that they and their group believe Evans taxpayers can no longer afford.

Their justification of cost advantage does not take into account that all of Erie County taxpayers will subsidize their police service.

The sheriff’s Road Division is a fine police agency responsible for assisting with police services in communities that are not served by their own taxpayer-funded agencies. The default police agency in those areas is actually the State Police.

What they see as a cost advantage for the residents of Evans hides the fact that this service to Evans and all the other communities that choose to not have their own police force is being subsidized by all of the county taxpayers, including those communities paying for their own police force.

I have long advocated for the cost of the sheriff’s Road Patrol to be separated from the general Erie County budget, and then the costs of that service paid for only by those municipalities that have chosen to freeload their police service on the backs of the rest of the county taxpayers.

The true cost of this service, divided up by those communities, would then be fair to the rest of the county residents with their own police departments.
Why should the residents of the Towns of Amherst, Hamburg, Lancaster, Tonawanda and West Seneca and the rest of the cities and villages of Erie County who support their own departments also pay for the Sheriff’s Department to patrol, among other places, Clarence, Elma, Alden, Grand Island and now Evans?

Again, there is no state mandate that the sheriff provide a road patrol. The only requirement is to provide jail/holding center personnel as well as some civil deputy services.

If a community has no local department for police service, the default police agency is the New York State Police. Road patrol divisions were established decades ago by sheriffs of many counties, with permissive legislation in Albany, so the sheriffs could have a visual presence in some of the rural communities of their counties.

In doing so, their ability to be returned to office tended to be enhanced. It is time that those communities who utilize that service be the communities that pay for that service.

Michael Thorp is a retired police officer with 30 years service, and a past president of the Western New York Police Association.

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