By CHRIS EBERHART
Beginning Dec. 3, all overnight calls, Sunday to Saturday, to the Tuckahoe Police Department will be forwarded to the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, who will then dispatch Tuckahoe officers to the scene.
This shared services agreement, which was announced on Oct. 18 by County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, and County Legislator Sheila Marcotte, an Eastchester Republican, does
away with the Tuckahoe desk officer during the midnight tour, which, according to Tuckahoe Police Chief John Costanzo, receives a very low number of calls.
With no one at the desk during the midnight tour, through 7:40 a.m., the headquarters will be closed, but a phone will be available outside the precinct to contact county police and a Tuckahoe officer will be dispatched to the headquarters.
Costanzo said these cuts save the village $280,000 in officers’ salaries and benefits.
Astorino reiterated the measure’s tax relief.
“This agreement enables the Tuckahoe Police Department to keep the same number of patrol officers on the street during the midnight shift while reducing costs for its taxpayers,” Astorino said. “At the same time, there is no cost incurred by the county.”
The need to optimize police operations and lower costs accelerated after the June 1 budget, Costanzo said, when two positions were eliminated from the department, which dropped the total number of officers from 25 to 23.
Costanzo and Tuckahoe Mayor Steven Ecklond, a Republican, went to Marcotte with the proposed plan over the summer.
Originally, Marcotte said she had her doubts as she considered several hypothetical emergency situations, but decided she was in favor of the plan after meeeting with Costanzo.
“We brainstormed scenarios. What if this happened? What if that happened? But [Costanzo] had an answer for everything,” Marcotte said. “I see this being a seamless transition.”
One of the what-ifs Marcotte introduced was a major storm event like Hurricane Sandy, which would trigger a high volume of calls. But Marcotte said, Constazno ensured her, in those type of situations, the Tuckahoe Police Department will have desk workers and the Westchester County Police will be notified ahead of time.
“If there’s a storm or a big village event such as fireworks, Tuckahoe police will notify the county that they have officers manning the phones and [the county] won’t be receiving calls. It’s like an on-and-off switch that they can flip anytime,” Marcotte said.
Slow response times to non-emergency calls are the only drawbacks to this agreement, Costanzo said.
“There will be no delay in response time to emergency calls, but there won’t be an instant answer to non-emergency calls, such as calls about parking regulations,” he said. “Most likely, they’ll have to call back at eight [a.m.].”
While Marcotte admits the elimination of the two positions and forwarding midnight-tour calls to the county is necessary now, she said she hopes the village Board of Trustees moves toward fully funding the police budget in 2014 and reinstating at least one of the lost positions, if not both of them.
“If there is a possibility to fully fund the police budget in 2014, I would hope that the village will consider doing that,” Marcotte said. “I understand the really tough economic challenges that they face, but public safety shouldn’t be an area that we are willing to compromise on.”
Marcotte said the goal is for the Tuckahoe Police Department to take back the midnight-tour calls come next budget, but, for now, this agreement is what the Village of Tuckahoe Police Department needs.
Tuckahoe Trustee Greg Luisi, a Republican, said he won’t know if taking back the midnight dispatching duties is a possibility until he sits down with the village treasurer and gets the preliminary budgets from each department head.
Public opinion over the new agreement is split.
Tuckahoe resident John Gallucci doesn’t want to do away with the midnight desk officers.
“I don’t like it. Everyone else has their own desk officer,” Gallucci said. “As a resident, I’d rather have one of my own officers answer my call and not the county.”
Resident Mike Collins likes the idea, but is worried Westchester County officers will respond to the calls phasing out Tuckahoe officers.
“Seems like a good service if it’s just a phone service,” Collins said. “But I’m afraid of Westchester County taking over and then there will be an increase in response time.”