Saranac Lake Police Chief Bruce Nason patrols Main Street during the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.
Saranac Lake Village Board members Monday, May 29 directed the police department to stop answering calls outside village limits because of liability and cost concerns.
The New York State Police periodically asks Saranac Lake police officers to provide assistance on calls outside the village limits, including times when village police can respond to emergencies quicker than the troopers traveling from Ray Brook. But until an agreement with the neighboring towns of Harrietstown, St. Armand and North Elba can be reached with regard to reimbursing the village for any costs incurred during those calls and covering any liability, village police are no longer allowed to provide those services outside the village. Exceptions in cases of extreme danger and public safety are made on a case-by-case basis.
“There are circumstances where we have to make an exception for humane reasons. This is understood,” Mayor Clyde Rabideau said. “And I’ll be happy to work with our chief of police to do that, but I do recommend drawing that line in the sand.”
Saranac Lake Trustee Paul Van Cott explained that village attorney Charles Noth suggested Village Board members make this change.
“State law suggests that when the police are called out by the State Police to respond to an incident outside the village that the State Police do not cover our liability and our costs for our response to that incident,” said Van Cott, who is an attorney at the Adirondack Park Agency. “And so the potential exists that if our officer is in injured … the village could incur the costs related to any claim that individual brought for long-term disability and that the potential liability for the village would be significant.”
In addition, if civilians were injured during a call, the village is not covered for any potential lawsuits filed by those individuals, Van Cott said.
There are also instances when municipal police departments ask neighboring villages for law enforcement help during special events, such as the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.
“Those are sort of reciprocal arrangements that we’ve had with the surrounding villages that also provide policing services,” Van Cott said. “We probably should look at having those in writing as well going forward.”
Mayor Rabideau agreed with the resolution, citing an incident when he was the Plattsburgh mayor in which a city police officer was hurt while assisting State Police outside the city limits.
“He was out of work for almost a full year, and it cost the city of Plattsburgh over $100,000 with no recompense,” Rabideau said. “We immediately informed the town of Plattsburgh that we would no longer respond unless they reciprocate our losses in the future.”
In addition, the mayor pointed out that every time a village cop leaves the village, they’re leaving the village unprotected.
Trustee Elias “Allie” Pelletieri suggested that board members wait another month to talk to neighboring town officials and have the directive take effect in 30 days, thereby putting them on notice.
Van Cott, however, said that the village is currently on notice and should not wait to take action.
“If tomorrow something were to happen and one of our officers were to be injured … we could be in the hole for hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Van Cott said. “And that’s not something we can afford as a village.”
The motion to accept the resolution was passed unanimously by trustees Pelletieri, Van Cott, Tom Catillaz and Barbara Rice.