COPAKE--The Copake Police Department was dissolved on paper during the November election, but it has taken the past six months to deal with all the physical trappings of the 36-year-old department.
The process is much like the one someone would go through to get rid of three-and-a-half decades worth of stuff no longer wanted or needed--except with a lot more rules attached.
At the November 2011 election, by a margin of four votes, town residents authorized the Town Board to dissolve the town's part-time police force largely because it cost too much to keep it operating.
In January of this year, a contingent of residents who wanted to keep the Police Department asked for a do-over vote or to have the Town Board create a new department or to get the result of the 2011 vote thrown out because it was procedurally flawed.
After those attempts fizzled, the town set about the business of disassembling the department.
Much of the task has fallen to former Copake Police Chief Rob Lopez, who has received some help from former Town Police Officer Larry Edelman.
The job has involved countless hours of sorting through case files and evidence dating back to 1976. But it wasn't as easy as just tossing old stuff.
Cases that could be closed had to be, others that are open or unsolved have to be turned over to another police agency.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Chief Lopez, who is also the director of Columbia County 911, said, “We're in the final stages and will be out [of the department's rented office space] by the end of the month.”
He said he has been doing a lot of “weeding through boxes” to see what can be shredded or has to be retained.
Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer set the end of June as the deadline for the department to be out of the office space the town has rented in the Community Rescue Squad building for many years.
Vacating the office space will immediately save the town $850/month.
At the June 14 Town Board meeting, a local law was introduced that would transfer ownership of one of the police department's four vehicles to the Copake Fire District. The town has repurposed one of the vehicles for use by town officials, such as the assessor, building inspector or zoning enforcement officer, who need it for work-related travel.
The remaining two police cars, a 2007 Dodge Charger and a 2007 Chevrolet Impala are currently posted on the Auctions International website awaiting the highest bid along with other police department paraphernalia: a steel security safe, two gun lockers, a radar unit, 10 personal property lockers, a Canon 35 mm camera and a Motorola mobile radio. The bidding is set to close June 28.
The Town Board also discussed what to do with the police guns: 10 handguns--Glocks Model 22; 4 shotguns--2 of them Remingtons, 1 Ithaca and 1 Mossberg; 2,500 rounds of 155 grain 40 caliber ammunition and assorted boxes of shotgun ammo.
Guns and ammunition also came up at the April Town Board meeting, when Town Attorney Ken Dow, who had been asked to research proper procedures, informed the board that items such as evidence, illegal contraband and weapons “cannot be handled by a non-police officer.” So arrangements to move or store those items had to be made with the Sheriff's Office or State Police.
Supervisor Nayer told the board last Thursday night that Chief Lopez had recommended the arms and ammo be sold for “gun Blue Book value” to a licensed firearms dealer in Claverack. By law, the guns have to be sold to a licensed dealer.
Chief Lopez told The Columbia Paper that he had called several dealers and a gun store to find out what price they would offer before recommending the Claverack dealer.
Mr. Nayer told the board the town would get the money all at one time if the items were sold to the dealer, who could then sell the guns at his leisure. Otherwise, the town would have to make arrangements with another police agency to store the guns until the board decided what licensed dealer to sell them to or could hand them over to a licensed dealer to sell for the town, which could take some time. The guns could be auctioned off, but they may not sell right away and the town would still be stuck with finding a police agency to store them.
The board agreed that selling the guns outright seemed to be the best choice, but opted to advertise them to see if any other interested dealers are out there.
Chief Lopez said by phone that he has arranged with the Sheriff's Office to take over any open cases the town police department has. He estimates that number to be around a dozen, though he was waiting to hear from both the County District Attorney's Office and the Copake Court to finalize the number of cases pending. Cases that would be handed over would include those in which warrants are yet to be executed or with a high degree of “solvability,” the chief said.
Some of the police radios have gone to the Town Highway Department, along with the PD's mobile message board, which was used to tell drivers their speed. The mobile sign will be used by the highway crew to alert people to road work or hazards.
Any office equipment--computers and printers or furniture--desks and chairs that can be used by the town will be, otherwise it will be sold, stored or, depending on the condition, discarded, according to Supervisor Nayer.
Of the $70,000 earmarked for the police department in the 2012 budget, Mr. Nayer estimates somewhere between $15,000 to $18,000 has been spent.
At the time voters decided to close down the police department, eight part-time officers were employed there.
“Only two officers have gotten jobs with other police agencies, the others are still looking,” said Chief Lopez.“Everybody has some kind of full-time job, all of them want to work at another police department,” said the chief.
The process of closing down the department took longer than anyone expected.
Phone calls had to be made to government agencies to find out if cars and other equipment purchased with grant money could be kept or had to be returned. Questions had to answered, procedures had to be followed. It wasn't a routine assignment.
The supervisor said he could not commend Police Chief Lopez enough for not walking away from the situation and staying to make sure the job was done right. He has offered his help in the future to find any files that may be needed and he has devoted more time to the effort than he has been paid for, said Mr. Nayer.
People keep asking him why he is helping close down the department, said Chief Lopez, who tells them, “because I care, I live in this town, I worked at that department for over 22 years it meant something to me.”
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