By David Yarger
On Monday night, the Wheatfield Town Board held its first meeting of May. Before getting to the agenda, the board heard from Chief Constable Roger Thompson regarding a local law amending constable duties.
Thompson discussed expansive training for the town constables to further the department’s capabilities.
Thompson’s main idea behind the public hearing for the amendment was that town constables had the capabilities of performing the listed officer duties, but training lacked in certain fields, and needed to be done to further execute the responsibilities and duties of a constable.
He first credited Robin Zastrow, former chief constable of Wheatfield, for “setting the framework for what we (Constable Department) are progressing into now.”
Thompson then explained the role of a constable and how one is a public official who is appointed, and in some counties, elected. Constables are considered peace officers according to the New York State Criminal Procedure Section 2.10. The official powers of a constable can be read at https://www.wheatfield.ny.us/372/Constable-Department.
While explaining additional training to constables, Thompson said it reduces the risk of liability to the town.
“What I have proposed is an amendment to the town code, and if you look at the criminal procedure law and you go line by line it is the same. If I read the first line of the criminal procedure law, ‘Persons designated in section 2.10,’ which indicates the constables, ‘of this article should have the following powers.’ Then it lists all the powers that they are eligible to perform. If you look at the town code, it is the same. Prior to this, within the town government, it did not list the Constable Department. We were still doing the job, still doing the function, but (we weren’t bonafide). This makes us bonafide. This gives us purpose.
“So going from what Robin has initially created, we are now becoming a little bit more solved. We have bones, skin, substance,” Thompson said.
He added that the amendment doesn’t add to the constables duties that are prohibited by state law. Thompson noted that it doesn’t mean the constables can go serve a warrant arrest, because, by state law, the Constable Department cannot do so.
To show he is capable of extending training of constable duties to the Wheatfield department, Thompson read off his extensive resume.
Thompson was a master sergeant in the Army who won a Bronze Star amongst 11 medals and two ribbons. He’s also a retired NYS Environmental Conservation police officer after 21 years, as well as a corrections officer for 13 years. Thompson was the NYS DEC Officer of the Year in 2016. Noteworthy of his resume was the numerous course instructions he has conducted.
“You don’t want an officer to be able to walk up to another officer, ask him or her a question and they say ‘I don’t know.’ That is the worst thing that you can tell me ever. My agenda for the future is to train each and every officer, to gather resources from other agencies in order to accomplish that. We’re taking baby steps. No one is going to run out and do stuff (immediately) without being fully trained,” Thompson said. “The taxpayers and residents of Wheatfield deserve them. When you see a constable out there, they are in the process of being trained further.”
“(As a taxpayer) you want an educated, you want a knowledgeable constable. Someone that is going to check your house, and be able to do an efficient and effective job,” Thompson said.
After the presentation, Zastrow asked Thomspon what specific duties he was looking to expand in the Constable Department.
Thompson replied, “Basically, anything that pertains to maintaining the peace in the town. So, if that means we have to do more house checks and actually get out of cars and know how to search correctly, that’s what we need to do. But the first thing is, as what you had started, is do an assessment – what kind of training do we need? … Training how to be able to drive the car. … If you don’t know how to handle an emergency situation where you’re driving fast and going through a congested area, you are dangerous; you’re a risk. Anything that pertains to maintaining the peace within the town, we’re going to train on, but we have to assess first what we need to do.”
Zastrow followed up and said, “My firm belief is the main duties of the Wheatfield Constable Department lie within the things that we’ve been providing for quite some time. As Roger stated, security at sessions on the Town Board, sessions of the Town Court; any other meetings … we’ve had enforcements of town ordinances, we’ve worked with the building inspector’s department. I firmly believe that is what the roots of the Constable Department are and it should be.
“I know the talk before I retired is getting into more activity on calls, more patrol sessions, taking a more active role in the street, possibly even integrating vehicle/traffic law stuff over the time. That was all discussed with me prior to that. I want to go on record as saying that I have some severe concerns about that. The Constable Department is made of part-time employees. These part-time employees have full-time careers outside of here. I understand training is important. … Training never ends. However, I want to express my concern to the Town Board about the safety issues that would come into play.
“When you talk about a 45-hour course presentation that a constable would have to go through, for example, just to do a traffic stop, that is a miniscule amount of training, and I would feel very unsafe. I think as a Town Board, you should consider the amount of liability both personally and to the town that would extend to our officers, as well as the board and the residents of the town.”
Zastrow added that a traffic stop is one of the most dangerous situations an officer can be a part of, and he doesn’t want to see anything bad happen.
No action was taken following the public hearing.
In other news
•The Town Board approved the final plat and construction drawings for the Witmer Road subdivision with the following conditions – Rear yard drainage easements shall be added to the final plat and to the construction drawings; rear yard grading shall be modified to accommodate potential future rear yard drains; and all requirements of the SPDES general permit must be complied with.
The subdivision is located on land behind the Town Hall campus.
•The next Town of Wheatfield Town Board meeting begins at 6:45 p.m. Monday, May 20, with a proclamation to Richard Muscatello.