UPDATED AT 10:10 A.M.
Salada called possible move 'a huge mistake'; Collesano said village is exploring all options
Story and photo by Terry Duffy, with additional reporting by Joshua Maloni
Discord between the Village of Lewiston, the Lewiston Police Department and the Town of Lewiston escalated to new heights Thursday. Village Mayor Terry Collesano and trustees held an executive session to discuss LPD funding and the department's future in the village. But Lewiston Police Chief Chris Salada wasn't invited, nor was Town Supervisor Steve Reiter.
"I received a 'nay' from the mayor," said Salada on his being part of the village's 6 p.m. meeting in the Red Brick, which focused on LPD funding, and future police enforcement services in the village. Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour and Undersheriff Michael Filicetti attended the session. The village is considering replacing LPD patrols with those from the Niagara County Sheriff's Office.
As a result, Salada joined with a number of LPD officers in what he termed "a show of force" Thursday outside the Red Brick, as the meeting got under way. "It's intended to show we're obviously concerned," he said.
In a lengthy statement with the Sentinel and WGRZ Channel 2 News reporters on hand, Salada commented:
"The Lewiston Police Department would like to show our objection to the possible cut in police coverage in the Village of Lewiston by a narrow majority of the Village of Lewiston Board. My understanding is that the Village Board has expressed an interest in concluding the 24-hours-a-day coverage the police department provides. They would like to go to an eight-hour, possibly 16-hours-a-day coverage, possibly by the Niagara County Sheriff's Department."
"They are attempting these safety cuts in place without consulting the police department, the patrols here, without consulting the Town of Lewiston. We are a town-village consolidated police department," Salada pointed out.
Salada said he feels Collesano and village trustees are singling out the LPD in a cost-cutting move without considering the consequences. "We, the police department, want the Village Board to see that we are not just a number on a budget sheet. We have faces; we have a large interest with this; we have families; a lot of us live here in the village."
He said the department, which numbers 10 full-time and nine part-time officers, plus three clerks, covers 64 square miles of patrols in the town, which includes the village. Currently the Village of Lewiston pays 22 percent of the LPD budget, or approximately $230,000 annually to the town, according to Reiter. Salada said he feared the village cut would result in "the biggest downfall" in LPD's enforcement services. "We will not be handling the village events, Artpark," he said.
Salada said a village trustees' decision to not fund LPD and go elsewhere would be theirs and theirs alone to make, and such a move would not be subject to any public referendum.
"Cutting public safety in this day and age where the economy is in the tank and drugs are growing rapidly, it is just a huge mistake to cut public safety," he said. "Our numbers just keep growing every year."
Of the executive session going on, Salada said he had learned about it just this week. "I expressed interest in being part of the meeting; I was told they were not going to let me attend. Who approached who, I don't know."
He went on to chastise Collesano and trustees for keeping village residents and business interests in the dark on the possible change. "If they knew this, we'd have a few hundred people here."
Salada said Voutour would likely present village trustees "a fair assessment of what he could provide and the cost" at the session. Salada didn't further elaborate.
The Village Board has received complaints that LPD officers are not as visible on village streets since the LPD's move from the Red Brick to the Lewiston-Porter campus on Creek Road.
"Our patrols are exactly the same since we moved to Lewiston-Porter, the only difference is that we are not coming back to this office," Salada said. "We still patrol the village the same amount of hours, still patrol the town the same amount of hours."
On a question of establishing a substation in the village, perhaps at the Lewiston Welcome Center in Academy Park, Salada called it "a great idea."
But he said any moves to eliminate funding would result in "severe cutbacks; cuts to manpower on the streets" for the department. "I think this is a big mistake. I'd like to see things work out where they continue, in a way where I, as police chief, can make some cuts; make this work."
Reiter, who stopped by the Red Brick to lend his support to more than a dozen LPD officers on hand, said the village had not apprised him of the meeting or the possible elimination of funding.
"I've heard a lot of rumors," he said.
But "the village has not contacted the Town Board members officially," Reiter said, adding he heard "through the grapevine" that village trustees seek to reduce police costs, possibly by having sheriffs deputies patrol the village.
"It's a concern of ours," Reiter said. "We're in the middle of a budget; we need to know if that contract is going to be null and void in January, or if they're going to stay with us."
Reiter said with a 22 or 23 percent cut, the town, "would have to look at things a lot differently, maybe not with personnel," but with the community programs LPD provides, such as Drug Awareness Resistance Education. Lewiston police officers "provide a valuable service" that might have to be cut, Reiter said, adding he hopes to keep patrols as they are.
He also said this is not the first time the village balked at funding the department.
"We went back to (receiving) 20 percent funding to relieve the village constraints" in the past, he said.
Reiter expressed his anger at Collesano and village trustees, not only for their actions, but also for not having the courtesy of informing him of the meeting.
"Any time you mess with peoples' lives, income, families, I think that's a very poor way of gaining my attention," he said. "They want to get my attention, they know how to call me."
On Friday, Collesano said it would've been inappropriate for either Salada or Reiter to sit in on Thursday's executive session because the Village Board was discussing a contract and financial terms with another party.
"As I explained to Chief Salada, the reason why he was not invited is because we were talking the possibility of getting our costs reduced through the sheriff's department," Collesano explained. "According to our counsel, our legal counsel Ed Jesella, he suggested that it would not be practical or appropriate to have someone else in listening to those figures. So this is the reason why. And I explained it to chief, and I thought he understood the reason. But evidently not.
"And it would be the same reason with the (Town Board) at this position. ... It's just like if they were negotiating something on their behalf, they wouldn't be inviting someone else in to overhear what the numbers are."
Collesano said no police decision has been made. The Village Board plans to meet with Salada to discuss funding alternatives.
"We're looking at all our options at this point," he said. "We're looking out for the welfare of the village taxpayers. And I think we would be derelict in our responsibilities if we don't do this.
"We're looking at all different angles. One of them is, of course, the sheriffs. They made a proposal to us last night. We have not accepted it. We're looking at it. Our next step is to sit down with the chief (Salada), and talk with the chief, and see if there is any way he can help us."
Trustees, Collesano said, are concerned with the police budget, not the police officers themselves.
"We have no problem with the police force, in general," he said. "We think they're probably doing a very excellent job as far as coverage and what have you. Our main purpose of meeting with outsiders and with private concerns is what we can do to cut our costs. We're paying nearly $300,000 for police coverage in a one-square-mile area with 2,700 people. It's totally absurd. We've told the Town Board this. The Town Board has not helped us, as far as reducing the cost.
"So now we're going to sit down with the police, and with the chief - because the chief is the one who prepares the budget for the police - to see if he can help. And then after we meet with the chief, we will meet with the Town Board, and we'll discuss it with the Town Board, and see if we can't resolve the situation."
Collesano said the two boards have previously talked about having a stronger or more visible police presence in the village, and may readdress that subject.
"This is one of the things that we have discussed, our Village Board, and when we approach the town, this could be one of the areas of discussion, yes," Collesano said.
Salada has said police costs have been up in recent years due, in part, to the Village of Lewiston's large number of festivals, concerts and Artpark & Company events. When Collesano was asked if event organizers could contribute some money back to the LPD to offset related costs, he said, "This is possible. It's also possible that we can reduce the amount of coverage that we do for Artpark now that Artpark has started charging and there's less crowds. Possibly we can reduce the costs of our police coverage there.
"Yes, there are other ways of possibly reducing our costs, and this is what we'll talk with the chief about."