Housing prices hurt police recruiting in Lake Placid
Numbers down; most officers live elsewhere
LAKE PLACID — Village Mayor Craig Randall read a letter during the Sept. 17 village board meeting informing the trustees that local police officer Mark Barrett would soon transfer to the Glens Falls Police Department.
The news sparked a larger discussion among the board — the number of Lake Placid police officers has decreased, due in part to the village’s high housing costs.
In a phone interview, Police Chief Bill Moore said the numbers are still fine to adequately service the village, but it does put stress on officers in terms of time off and paid leave.
Barrett’s departure left 10 employees in the Lake Placid Police Department: eight officers, Assistant Chief Chuck Dobson and Chief Moore. Village Trustee and Police and Fire Commissioner Art Devlin said that number is lower than the village would like. Twelve to 15 officers would be ideal, he said.
“The problem that you run into is you need eight patrolmen minimum to staff everything,” he said. “Then you’ve got your days off, your comp time and your overtime to take care of. Twelve officers give you a good number so that you can give days off.”
Allowing leave time for officers is one of the top priorities of the village, Devlin and Randall said.
“Then there’s also the issue of training and other things that need to be done,” Devlin said. “It just makes it harder and harder with fewer officers.”
To compare to other local police forces, the Saranac Lake department has 10 officers and a chief, and Tupper Lake’s has a chief, a sergeant, seven officers, two part-time officers and two recruits in the academy. Lake Placid has significantly fewer residents than the other two villages, but its tourism nature draws extra people year round — and especially during events such as the Ironman triathlon and the Lake Placid Summit Classic lacrosse tournament.
Before they become full-time, officers must first go through the police academy, which takes about three months. Then they have to shadow another officer for three more months. Plus, officers need to be 21 years old to join a department.
“When someone goes to another department or goes to the state police,” Devlin said, “you can’t just snap your fingers and have a new person in place in a week or two. You’re looking at a long delay as they have about a year before they’re actually full-time.”
How far officers are willing to travel factors into their stay at the village department. Moore said officers tend to commute from places such as Jay, Willsboro Westport, Keene and Keeseville. Barrett commuted from Glens Falls.
“I think I only have two officers that live within or near the village,” Moore said. “The majority don’t even live in the town of North Elba. When I joined in 1990, you were obligated to live in the village if you wanted to be part of the department.”
When hiring, the village will review the Civil Service list for available and prospective officers; however, those folks can also live far from Lake Placid. Officers’ qualifications tend to outweigh their addresses.
“I’m married to that Civil Service list,” Moore said, “I used to be able to choose from a Lake Placid list and an Essex County list. Now, there is no Lake Placid list.”
The ever growing issue of the village’s housing and vacation rental market is one factor for long commutes, Devlin said.
“It’s hard to have a house,” he said. “It’s hard to rent a house, and a lot of people end up getting pushed quite a ways away. The people we mentioned earlier on the Civil Service list are mostly coming from downstate and the Ticonderoga area. We’re hoping for some interest from people that live in Lake Placid. It’s a good job with good benefits and good retirement.”
Moore said that when he first joined the department in the ’90s, being a village officer was a well sought after job. He, too, thinks the housing market contributes to less of an interest toward local police work.
“You used to be neighbors with the police officers, but it’s hard to afford a home here now,” he said. “I think we’re losing that sense of community through this vacation rental and second homeowner issue.”
Moore himself doesn’t live in the village but does live in the town of North Elba.
The police department and the village are currently negotiating pay and benefits contracts. Currently, the starting salary for a new officer is around $40,000.
One scenario that occasionally happens in many small police forces is that the department takes on a new officer, that person works for a minimal amount of time, maybe a year, and then he or she leaves for a different department.
“It’s frustrating to train someone, put a lot of money into them and have them leave,” Moore said. “We’ll get reimbursed by the municipality the officer transfers to, but it’s not about the money. It’s the boots on the street.
“The state police do pay people significantly more, and I don’t blame officers for wanting to transfer there or some place closer to home.”
At the board meeting, Trustee Jason Leon asked how the village will attract local recruits. He too believed this concern, along with many issues, traces back to housing market. Devlin deferred to Trustee and former local police chief Scott Monroe, asking how he dealt with these kinds of situations in the past.
“I never had a problem keeping people before,” Monroe said.
Monroe also questioned whether an internship program would make sense for local recruiting efforts.
“We used to do ride-alongs with the high school seniors all the time,” he said. “Are we still doing that?”
Moore said the department still offers ride-alongs, but he would like to strengthen recruitment efforts for the new generation.
“We want to increase our social media marketing and hit a few more job fairs at colleges,” he said.
Moore said there were 15 officers in the department in 1988, and he’d like to get back to those numbers.
Lake Placid and the role of its police has changed in the past few decades as the village’s events calendar has gotten more robust.
“The late ’80s and ’90s were different,” Moore said. “There was no Ironman. There was no lacrosse tournament. There was no Empire State Games. These events didn’t exist. The horse shows were around, and the rugby tournament was much smaller, but since then, we’ve become a very event-based community. Serving it with lower staffing is challenging.”
Randall said the local police department isn’t a municipal requirement for Lake Placid, but the nature of the village and its roster of large events throughout the year make the department an advantage. Devlin added that the local police are an integral part of the volunteer ambulance service.
“They’re not part of [the ambulance service], but they are quite often the first ones to an accident scene,” he said, “They do have medical training, and they’ll beat the ambulance there.”
Randall agreed and added, “I guarantee you that if there’s a fire call, our police will get to the hydrant before the fire crews or just as fast. Or when there’s an accident on the highway, we’re lucky to have [local police] because the likelihood is that the nearest state trooper car on the road could be 20 miles away, and the road patrol for the [Essex County] Sheriff’s Department is relatively small.
“It would be very difficult to envision a situation here without a without a local law enforcement unit.”