SLPD creates two new positions to stave off cutting hours
Assistant police chief appointed, special events officer to be hired
SARANAC LAKE — The village board recently created two new positions in its police department, a move Mayor Jimmy Williams says was necessary to keep the department from cutting its night shift as it works through a period of low staffing.
Last week, the village board approved the creation of an assistant chief position and authorized former SLPD officer Casey Reardon to be appointed to that new seat. Earlier this month, the board also created a special events patrol officer position to work at public events.
Trustee Kelly Brunette felt the resolution to create and fill the assistant chief position came “too fast” and that she needed more time and more information to make a decision. She voted against the resolution, but it still passed 4-1.
Williams said the goal of creating these positions was to keep the department operating at 100%, 24/7.
Two officers — Gabrielle Beebe and Aaron Sharlow — are currently on administrative leave as New York State Police and the state Attorney General investigate the fatal shooting of Joshua De’Miguel Kavota they were involved in in June. Williams said he has not heard anything recently from the state on when the investigation into Kavota’s death will be completed.
“We’re hoping to have them back soon if all goes well,” SLPD Chief Darin Perrotte wrote in a text.
Williams also said Officer Thomas Lauzon is moving away to a police department in Maine. He said the SLPD was “already short-staffed” before this. Officer Travis McDonald has been on long-term administrative leave for months now.
“The current workflow and hours that officers are putting in are not sustainable,” Williams said. “I don’t want to see us close our police station like Tupper Lake does. … In an emergency situation every minute matters.”
The Tupper Lake Police Department station began operating for only 12 hours a day in May — from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — with State Police filling in overnight. The department had previously been open 24/7, but facing a historically low amount of active staff this summer, the department cut its night patrol shift for the first time, and may not see it return until the end of this year at the earliest.
Williams said Stender and Perrotte told him, with one officer on unpaid leave, two on administrative leave and one leaving, they would not be able to continue staffing the department throughout the day after Lauzon left on Aug. 9.
The TLPD had five active officers when it cut its hours, and Williams said the SLPD has around the same number of active officers now.
Perrotte said “ideally” he’d have 12 officers — four sergeants and eight patrol officers — as well as the chief and an administrative staff member.
The SLPD has two new recruit officers — Ashley Pittman and Katie Fischer — who were hired in June and who began attending police academy on Monday. But it will take almost a year before they can be independent officers. The academy lasts around four months, followed by six months of supervised on-the-job training.
In the meantime, hiring people with existing experience to fill positions is difficult.
To be a police officer, people need to be certified through Franklin County Civil Service, but FCCS only recognizes someone’s qualifications for up to a year after they retire. However, the state Department of Criminal Justice Services recognizes qualifications for up to four years after retirement.
Williams said the village has been working with Franklin County Civil Service “nonstop” for the last 11 days.
“They’ve been great, but they can’t change laws,” Williams said.
So the village created positions it can fill.
Reardon’s police certification is good through the state CJS because he retired fewer than four years ago.
“As bizarre as it sounds, I couldn’t come back as a patrolman, but I can come back as an administrator and I still have all my police powers and can fully enforce the law like a patrolman,” Reardon said.
The people hired for these two new positions could start immediately if they are licensed properly.
Williams said he’s also requested a “hardship waiver” from Franklin County Civil Service to make part-time positions non-competitive.
Brunette: “Too fast”
Brunette said the first time she saw the resolution to create and appoint someone to fill an assistant chief position was last Monday, in an executive session after the regular meeting. She had more questions about if this position was needed, why it was being created now, what the position will cost in the budget and how many officers the department currently has working. She hadn’t spoken with Perrotte and said it was important to her that he be there to ask questions of.
“All I was told was ‘It’s urgent. There’s a crisis in the SLPD.’ Which may be true, but no facts were provided to demonstrate that for me,” Brunette said. “I don’t think it needed to be immediate. … I don’t want to act recklessly.”
She said it was a big decision and she needed more time before personally approving it.
“I didn’t want to take it lightly,” Brunette said. “Maintaining public safety is of crucial importance, but I think it is important to make decisions with facts and not emotions. … I think the public deserves that.”
Williams said he believes the village couldn’t wait. He was asked if the village should have waited to take a vote.
“One hundred percent disagree,” he said. “Time is a luxury that sometimes you are afforded, and sometimes you are not.”
Brunette said since the rest of the board approved the position creation and appointment, she’s not going to stay in opposition to it.
Police Interface Committee
Brunette said last week that she wanted the village’s Police Interface Committee to be involved in the discussion.
“I hate creating committees, task forces, advisory boards pertaining to a topic and then not including them in the discussion,” Brunette said.
Police Interface Committee member Greg Landon said the group had not been told of this plan to create new positions ahead of the votes.
“I do believe that we should have been at least informed,” Landon said. “As the interface committee we need to be prepared to get feedback from the community. … We should be educated on what is happening.”
PIC member Trevor Sussy said committee members have heard for a while that people in the community want to see more police patrolling the streets in a way that makes them “approachable.” He said having an officer on foot at events is “good news” to him.
He felt the board could have involved his group, but also said the PIC is finding its way as a committee and only recently began meeting with the public regularly.
PIC member Patrick Murphy said he would not say much about the village actions, as a village employee — the deputy clerk/treasurer.
PIC member Nigel Darrah said he believes it is “fantastic” for the department to expand from “old ways” to “new … healthier ways” of community engagement.
“If you just hire more cops, then cops are going to do what cops are going to do,” Darrah said. “People don’t really respond well to how cops operate.”
He felt having officers in safe environments — community events — could promote communication.
He felt the new events officer should be a local — someone familiar with the community and able to answer people’s questions.
PIC member Justin Oliver was not available for comment to the Enterprise before publication of this article.
Assistant police chief
The board approved the creation of the assistant police chief position Monday after a lengthy executive session. The resolution passed 4-1. Brunette voted against creating the position.
Williams said this position was approved by Franklin County Civil Service and that Reardon can start immediately, as soon as he returns from an out-of-state trip. Williams said the village is working with Lake Placid village police and county sheriffs to fill in until he returns.
The resolution says the assistant chief would work under the direction of the chief and assist the chief in their oversight of the SLPD’s actions. They would be licensed to perform any necessary police work.
The resolution says Reardon has 20 years of “exemplary service” with the village police.
Reardon said he started his police career in Tupper Lake in 1998 and moved to SLPD around a year later. He worked his way up the ranks and retired three years ago as the senior sergeant, the top position below the chief.
He had been responsible for day-to-day administrative duties. He said the chief was responsible for working with the village board and running the department long-term. Reardon said he helped rework the department’s general orders with then-Chief Chuck Potthast. He also said he had been active in drug work, which he believes is needed even more today.
“The drug situation never gets better. It always gets worse,” Reardon said.
Reardon said he’s remained friends with members of the department since retiring. One night he was speaking with an officer about all the overtime they were working. Reardon told the officer to tell the chief he was available to help out. Then, a little over two weeks ago, he mentioned this to Williams, too.
Williams said he had been reaching out to people to search for a new administrator before Reardon spoke to him, and he jumped on the offer.
Reardon said he’ll have to catch up on how the police department works. It has changed a bit since he retired three years ago, with new discovery laws that came in with the bail reforms the state passed in 2019.
Reardon said it “pains” him to see the department so short-staffed and he’s felt bad for his former colleagues.
“They’re all working 80 hours a week,” he said.
He said he goes on the lake with his kids, but he thinks about how “those guys and girls won’t see their families for the whole summer.”
He wants to give officers more time for life outside of work and take some of the load off their shoulders. He’s not really sure what the scope of his role would be. It’s still very early in the process of creating the position, but he said he’s ready to do anything.
“I’m not above going out and walking the streets or directing traffic or responding to accidents,” Reardon said. “I’m just going to walk in the door and say ‘Where do you need me?’ … Need someone to answer the phones or even sweep the floors or empty garbage cans or something? I’ll come in and do whatever.”
He said he doesn’t want to step on Perrotte’s toes. He’s heard Perrotte is doing well as chief, and wants to let him do his job.
Reardon has a contracting business now and is raising two children.
Special events patrol officer
The board approved the creation of a special events patrol officer two weeks ago.
This officer’s duties will include “maintaining order, providing protection and preventing acts that would be harmful to the public in designated publicly-ownerdproperty and observing suspicious activity and responding to the activity and taking appropriate action,” according to the resolution. The officer would have all the powers of a police officer.
To be eligible for this position, applicants must have retired from a police or sheriff’s department; New York State Police; or be a retired corrections, parole or probation officer.
This officer would work at weekly or monthly events like farmers markets or ArtWalks, Williams said; or annual events, like Can-Am Rugby or Winter Carnival, Brunette said.
Brunette voted to approve this position, she said, because questions she had about this officer’s job were answered at the meeting. She also said the board only created the position, it didn’t select someone to fill it. Brunette feels that creating a position with civil service and hiring for it should be two separate processes.