Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of SplitIthaca, a weekly magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.
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Dryden, N.Y. — Larry Plante removes a sign from the front of his corner home, which sits across from the police department in the Village of Dryden. Three police cruisers sit in the parking lot, but more could be parked—unused—soon.
That is because the village board drastically reduced the police budget, in a move that has residents concerned.
“It’s a terrible thing to cut that budget,” Plante said.
The Village of Dryden board of trustees unanimously voted April 21 to reduce the police budget by roughly $89,000 for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, which begins June 1.
“There’s been a multi-year effort to look at the police department and its relative size compared to the village and other villages of similar size,” Village Trustee Michael Hattery said.
Mayor Reba Taylor said despite the overnight gap, New York State Police Officers and Tompkins County Sheriff’s Deputies would provide coverage.
The cutbacks are only about half of the original police department cuts village leaders anticipated. Village Trustee Charlie Becker previously proposed the village slash $160,000. Even so, the changes will make Acting Police Chief Mike Watkins’ job part-time, and end 24/7 coverage of neighborhoods by village police officers, leaving a gap in the middle of the night.
“We need the service,” Plante said. “We need the protection of police officers. It’s very, very important I think to have it during that time of night, too.”
A 2014 study of the police department found there was a low call volume overnight, which Hattery said impacted the decision to cut some overnight coverage.
“If it turns out to be negative and creates more problems than we anticipate, then we can make an adjustment to restore that coverage,” he said.
The mayor said losses of police grants and the closure of the village court several years ago—which generated revenue through traffic fines—strained the budget.
“The money that the court used to bring in was used to support the police department,” she said.
The mayor praised Police Chief Mike Watkins for his patience and dedication during the budget cutting process. While many Dryden residents were disappointed with the outcome, they were relieved to know that trustees never considered eliminating the police force entirely.
“It means you’re guaranteed a minimum response time in case there is a problem,” Dryden resident Chris Quinlan said. “You can raise a family without having a firearm in your house, just in case the closest trooper or Tompkins County Sheriff’s Deputy is a long way off.”
The village currently employs six full time police officers and nine part time officers.
Because of the village’s proximity to Tompkins Cortland Community College, Plante said there are sometimes conflicts between local residents and college students. A police presence in those scenarios is helpful, he said.
“I listened to the concerns of residents, and I think this is something that is worth trying to see what kind of impact it has on public safety,” Hattery said. “And if it turns out to be negative and creates more problems than we anticipate, then we can make an adjustment to restore that coverage.”