Police departments across the country, and their budgets in particular, are facing renewed scrutiny.
In Pound Ridge, considered one of the most secluded and private enclaves in Westchester County, the police budget has increased every year since 2016. In 2020, the town allocated its greatest share yet, $1,181,596, or approximately 18% of total appropriations in the General Fund, to the police department.
This funding increase is consistent with findings of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, which recently compared police spending with all general expenditures across 150 large cities going back 40 years and found the police share of spending has grown, even as most cities have become safer.
To put the local numbers into context, The Record-Review recently sat down with Pound Ridge Police Chief David Ryan, who said he was eager to discuss his department’s budget.
“We do not have a problem with transparency,” Chief Ryan said.
The Pound Ridge police budget is broken into four parts. The first and largest portion is direct department spending. A majority of this budget, approximately 60%, is made of wages. The Pound Ridge Police Department consists of 22 part-time police officers and one full-time chief who provide 24-hour coverage for approximately 24 square miles at a total cost hovering around $1.12 million. By comparison, the Town of Bedford encompasses 16 additional square miles, and maintains a force of 40 sworn officers with a budget more than five times larger than Pound Ridge.
With a limited size and funding, the policing priorities are different in Pound Ridge, Chief Ryan explained. “Our function here is a patrol function and a public service function,” he said.
The officers in Pound Ridge spend the majority of their shifts performing a community policing function. Traffic monitoring is a big component of quality of life in town, Chief Ryan said. So is answering residents 911 calls for everything from a cat in a tree to an elderly resident who needs help changing a light bulb. Chief Ryan also requires his officers to stop at least five times a shift, unless it’s a busy day, to get out of their vehicle and interact with the public. The goal is to ward off bigger problems by taking care of the little ones, and establishing a close relationship with the community, according to the chief. To keep down costs, the department partners with state agencies on more complicated cases such as those involving drugs, guns and fatal accidents. A single homicide investigation, from start to finish, can cost as much as the police department’s entire budget, Chief Ryan noted, so utilizing other resources in these instances is crucial.
Another part of the police budget includes funding for communications technology used not just by officers, but also the Highway Department, Pound Ridge Volunteer Fire Department, emergency medical services and the Office of Emergency Management. A third budget section includes funding for Office of Emergency Management operations, which the department oversees. The fourth portion includes the animal control officer, who handles everything from lost dogs to horses trapped in swimming pools (which happens more often than one might think) and deer management control.
In September of each year, Chief Ryan examines all facets of the department budget and sits down with the town supervisor. They review the previous year’s budget, examine priorities for the coming year, search for efficiencies, and plan next year’s budget. Though Chief Ryan said he makes every effort to hold down expenses, at times requested budgetary increases are out of his hands, triggered by new but unfunded state mandates.
For example, last year the state passed down bail and discovery reform mandates in an effort to expedite the process of discovery in legal cases. This wound up having a “significant impact on municipal budgets,” Chief Ryan said, because it put the onus on local law enforcement to quickly gather interviews, records and other documentation after arrests. To meet these demands, he had to put in a request for an additional $30,000.
“It takes eight to 20 hours to compile all that data and get it to the DA’s office so that they can now meet the bail reform and discovery guidelines,” Chief Ryan said.
This year the state has passed down additional mandates, spurred by the murder of George Floyd and subsequent calls for criminal justice reform. Chief Ryan said New York has enacted new laws requiring the department to reexamine its use of force policies, pursuit policies, mental health policies, and use of body camera equipment. Though this involves a significant amount of additional work, he said he welcomes it. Also, meeting the new departmental training requirements in these areas will add pressure on the 2021 budget and make it difficult to bring it in with less than a 5% increase. But in light of publicized incidents of police brutality and the misuse of force nationwide, he feels the changes are justified.
“There’s always a constant need to rethink the way we do our jobs,” Chief Ryan said.