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SL wants retired troopers as part-time officers

SARANAC LAKE — The village Board of Trustees supported a bill that would allow retired state troopers to work as part-time officers in the village police department at Monday night’s meeting.

Sen. Betty Little introduced to the most recent version of the bill to the state Senate in January 2019, and Assemblyman Billy Jones sponsored it in the state Assembly. If approved, the bill would allow retired state troopers to work as part-time officers without further examinations or requirements in the Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Malone village police departments.

Franklin County Civil Services doesn’t consider state troopers as municipal police officers. To be a village police officer you would have to be accepted into the department before the age of 35. Most retired state troopers are past that point before they consider picking up part-time work.

“This was important particularly to the village of Tupper Lake because they have a shortage of police officers,” Little said in a voice mail Wednesday. “What happens many times in the village is you train police officers, they work for a while and then they move on to a different force with better pay or more members so they can move up and all of that. But, you still need the staff in the village.”

It also wouldn’t cost much to hire the retired troopers, she said.

“They’re already trained, they have a lot of experience and they’re willing to fill in the gaps where you need people,” Little said. “It would actually end up costing less because they’ve already retired from the state system, and they have their own health insurance, so that wouldn’t have to be coming through the village.”

She said Saranac Lake and Malone liked the idea so much that the bill was revised to include those communities, too.

In an interview Wednesday, village Trustee Rich Shapiro said this isn’t the first time the village board has supported the bill. They agree with the proposal, he said, it just hasn’t gained the traction in the state Legislature. Village Manager John Sweeney said this discussion has been going on for a while, possibly more than five years.

The Saranac Lake Police Department currently has 12 officers including Chief Chuck Potthast. He said he would welcome part-timers but that his staff isn’t hurting for more recruits, either.

“Twelve is a good, workable number,” he said. “I would definitely welcome (part-time officers). We’ve had to turn people away in the past because civil services deemed them not eligible for the job.”

Right now, the village has one part-time officer – Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Wilson. Potthast said Wilson comes in when they need extra support or if a shift needs to be filled.

Potthast is a former state trooper himself. However, the county civil service rules are different for part-time officers and full-time chiefs.

The Tupper Lake Police Department, on the other hand, has been having issues with staffing. Right now, the department has eight officers, and two have been contracted by the Tupper Lake Central School District as school resource officers. In 2019, two officers resigned from the department. Two more were hired in January 2020, but they still need to go through the academy and won’t be on a solo patrol until the fall. The lack of staffing has led to officers working more overtime.

“Nobody wants to be a cop anymore,” Proulx previously said about the industry as a whole.