“We just want to render our service safely,” said Kenneth Burns, speaking on behalf of the Town of Montgomery Police Benevolent Association.
Burns and many of his fellow town police officers assembled at the Montgomery Town Board meeting Sept. 7, asking for assistance.
In August, Lt. Alex Landolina had told the board that the safety of the town’s police officers was at risk due to a lack of serviceable police vehicles, relaying how a vehicle broke down while responding to a call. The board stated at that time that they would meet with the police department to explore options.
At the Sept. 7 town board meeting, Burns read a letter dated Aug. 28 from the PBA’s attorney, Nicholas Switach, to the town board, which spoke of a growing concern about the state of the department’s patrol vehicles. He said only five were considered “road serviceable.”
Issues with the vehicles range from blown transmissions to extensive mileage that in some cases is double or triple their expected life span.
“As a result of the reduction of roadworthy vehicles, there is a significant safety concern for both the officers as well as the public they serve,” Switach said in the letter.
Switach explained that the five remaining vehicles are expected to patrol the entire town (approximately 53 square miles), which increases the distance each car travels for patrol and the response time to calls for service and backup.
“In order to continue to properly serve the town and to ensure the safety of the public as well as the officers, this issue requires immediate redress,” said Switach.
When asked, Town Supervisor Mike Hayes said they had no answer yet.
Former town supervisor Susan Cockburn warned the town board that they were putting the town in a “liability situation” if an officer now has an accident in a “bum car.”
She also spoke up for the officers, saying the town board was treating the officers “like children” by forcing them to come to the board repeatedly to ask for suitable equipment to do their jobs.
“It’s been going on for a long time already,” said Cockburn.
The department has not replaced a vehicle in at least two years.
Burns explained after the meeting that the department needs 10 fully functional vehicles to properly serve the town. A police department of their size should be getting one or two new vehicles each year and rotating their assigned use, eventually decommissioning them from the police department and assigning them to animal control or other town use, if not selling them.
“We’ve always had a good working relationship with the town board,” Burns said after the meeting, saying the board has been fair with negotiations and they are not complaining about working conditions.
Burns said the officers are only asking for necessary equipment—not anything extravagant like a helicopter or a tank.
“We’re just trying to render service to residents and we need the proper equipment to do so,” said Burns.
Landolina was back at town hall at the Sept. 14 work session, to ask if two vehicles could be included in next year’s budget. He went through a litany of mechanical issues among the police vehicles. He said they are in the process of removing the cage from one car with transmission trouble and putting it another. Another car, noted Councilwoman Sheryl Melick needs wheels.
Melick indicated she expects the town to find money in next year’s budget for at least one car.
“Our recommendation is that we will be working on the budget and see what we can do about getting a new car at the beginning of the year,” she said at last week’s town board meeting. “We’ll be working on the budget next month.”