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Police consultation voted down

The Bethlehem Town Board tonight voted against a proposal brought forward by Supervisor Sam Messina to hire a consultant to conduct a review of the town's police department.

The board membersall four of whom voted Nay" on the proposal, with Messina voting in the affirmative"said it was unclear from Messina's proposal exactly what the consultant would be studying and why.

"It was unclear what the impetus for this was," said Councilwoman Joann Dawson.

In his memo to Town Board members, Messina wrote that "[he] felt that it would be productive to have an independent review of the structure and functions of our Police Department, as related to its mission."

In an interview before the meeting, he said he hoped the consultant would be able to find some opportunities for cost savings in the department. He noted the police department constitutes a considerable portion of the town budget.

"One of the reasons we're looking there is to see if there's efficiencies or cost savings," he said. "The police department budget is about $6,183,000, and that's without the telecommunicators [dispatchers] and animal control officer."

Messina proposed hiring James E. McCabe of Douglaston, who the supervisor said holds a Ph.D and works in the field of police science. The cost for the report was pegged at $7,000, which would include two days of on-site research at the department and a report. The money would have come from the "other contractual services" line in the supervisor's office budget, which stands at about $17,000.

Board members also questioned what manner of savings a consultant might find. The police department has been the subject of two reviews in the past five years, and Councilman Kyle Kotary said a Department of Criminal Justice Services ended up recommending the department add more staff, not cut costs.

"Why do we need this study?" he asked.

Messina said he feels the report would more than pay for itself, and added that since McCabe would largely be reviewing department records he wouldn't eat up staff resources. Councilman Mark Jordan said he wouldn't support the expenditure without a better idea of what might come out of the consultation, though.

"That's what a lot of people pay in property taxes a year," he said of the estimated cost.

Messina's proposal indicated that Police Chief Louis Corsi would cooperate with the internal review.

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