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Town, Village boards to discuss police panel; Commission's role stirring questions

Confusion over the role of the Lewiston Police Commission in modern law enforcement may soon be eliminated during a meeting among town and village officials.

At the suggestion of Town Councilman Michael J. Marra, representatives of the Town and Village boards are to meet jointly before the next Town Board meeting March 26 to discuss the organization and function of the police commission.

The commission's role was called into question last week when Village Mayor Terry C. Collesano said he understood town officials had tried to appoint all three members of the civilian police commission without consulting the village, which he said was an apparent violation of an agreement between the town and village governments.

Town Supervisor Steven L. Reiter said Monday, however, that the three members were appointed routinely at the Town Board's annual reorganization meeting and he was unaware of any impropriety.

Reiter said the commission was established some time ago to act as a liaison for communication among the town, village and police departments at a time when the former village department was being consolidated with the town department to provide a single police agency for all of Lewiston.

The village is part of the town, and many similar communities in New York State have a single police department to patrol their villages as well as the portions of the town outside the villages.

Town Councilman Ernest C. Palmer said the original understanding establishing the village-town police commission was "a convoluted agreement, updated by subsequent handshake agreements" and that it perhaps should be updated. Palmer is a former superintendent of the Niagara Falls City Police Department.

Since the combined department has generally won high praise for its work throughout the town, some residents have questioned whether the police commission has outlived its usefulness and may no longer be needed.

Police Chief Christopher P. Salada attends most metings of the Village and Town boards, and board members refer most police questions to him directly without the necessity to consult a liaison commission.

Reiter, the town supervisor, said the commission now has no real function. Its members do not appoint the police chief nor adopt policies for the department, although they are welcome to make recommendations to the Town and Village boards, he said.

As originally conceived, the commission was to have consisted of one person appointed by the village mayor, one appointed by the town supervisor and one named jointly by each of the municipal boards.

Collesano said his mayoral appointee to the commission is Alfred Soluri, and he considers Soluri to still be a member of the commission.

The town, however, appointed Palmer, Town Councilman Ronald W. Winkley and Lewiston resident Henry J. Sloma as the three members of the commission. Winkley is a former Lewiston police chief, while Sloma is acting chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and chairman of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

Police patrols are to continue unaffected while village and town officials debate the proper role for the police commission.