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Feb 4, 2015 12:58 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Westhampton Beach Village Is Expected To Create Police Commissioner Position Thursday

Feb 4, 2015 1:41 PM

The Westhampton Beach Village Board is expected to add a new, highly paid position to its police department during tonight’s board meeting, though who will be filling that seat most likely will not be decided immediately.

After months of speculation, the board will hold a public hearing tonight, February 5, on the creation of a police commissioner position, and then vote on a new law clearing the way for the action. Board members unanimously approved the idea of creating a commissioner post when it appointed then-Lieutenant Trevor Gonce to the position of provisional chief in December, so, in essence, the hearing will be held to hammer out the final details, Trustee Ralph Urban said on Tuesday.

“We have to tweak it—it’s not set in stone the way it was advertised, but the entire board, if you’ll recall when we appointed Chief Gonce, agreed to this concept in a package along with Trevor’s appointment,” Mr. Urban said. “I would anticipate that, once we get this figured out and tweaked, it will be approved.”

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Village Hall.

As proposed, the law would give the commissioner greater power than Chief Gonce while maintaining the authority of the current board of police commissioners—the Village Board. Chief Gonce would report to the commissioner, and that individual would be supervised by Mayor Maria Moore and the Village Board. The commissioner would be paid as much as 5 percent more than Chief Gonce, whose current base salary is about $148,500.

Ms. Moore has billed the new position as a cost savings for the village, pointing out that the salaries of Chief Gonce and the commissioner will be less than the combined salaries of former Police Chief Ray Dean and then-Lt. Gonce. The mayor could not be reached for comment this week.

On Wednesday morning, Trustee Patricia DiBenedetto said that aspects of the law were still being discussed, including how it would affect the chain of command. She declined to speculate how those issues would be resolved.

“There’s a lot of restrictions on us as a board in terms of what we can and can’t do, and we’re doing our research to make sure we do what’s best for the police department and the village as a whole,” she said. “We’re doing our homework, and I think we should be commended for that.”

Ms. DiBenedetto urged people to come to the public hearing for more specific answers.

Mr. Urban said the board does not intend to usurp the authority of Chief Gonce with the creation of the commissioner, but rather provide him with administrative assistance, and that is another area that will be clarified during Thursday’s meeting.

Chief Gonce, who has been leading the department since Mr. Dean left the position on short notice last summer, said he has been forced to go out on calls frequently because his department is short-staffed. The department has 11 full-time officers, including Chief Gonce and a suspended officer.

“He’s working very hard, probably too hard at this point,” Mr. Urban said. “We want to get the police force up and running and accredited, and get a number of other things in place.”

One of the main hopes for the police commissioner is that he or she would help get the village department accredited by the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services. Chief Gonce has said he’s already begun the process of writing out the necessary procedures for his officers to follow, and he would rather put the money that would go toward a commissioner toward hiring new officers so he could focus on implementing the new protocols.

But Mr. Urban said that because of Suffolk County Civil Service restrictions on when new officers can be hired and when current officers can be promoted, hiring a commissioner, a non-civil service position, would be the fastest way to bring in relief.

Accreditation is given to police departments that demonstrate adherence to standards set out by the state. As part of this process, officers are given guidelines to follow for specific situations, which some speculate leads to a better insurance rating.

In 2009, the Quogue Village Police went through the accreditation process and, last year, the department completed its first renewal, Quogue Police Lieutenant Chris Isola said. He said his department had one sergeant and one officer handle the original accreditation process in 2009, which he said was lengthy and time-consuming, primarily because the individuals in charge were not clerically trained and had to balance that work with their police duties.

“It could certainly be done more quickly if you had people who had nothing to do except accreditation,” he said. “If they got a call, they’d have to run out, and therein lies the challenge.”

At the time, Quogue Police had a staff of 13 officers, including a lieutenant, a detective and a chief, Lt. Isola said. No additional staff was hired for the accreditation process, which took between six and nine months to complete, he said.

Lt. Isola added that his department was able to carve out more time for the officers to work on accreditation by having enough staff to overlap shifts.

“You need someone to be able to dedicate themselves to do that,” he said. “You can’t manage accreditation from the police car. It’s just too involved, and it’s not designed that way.”

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So many questions.
Does a dept of 11 really need a commissioner? Isn't that what the board is for? How many other departments with a dozen officers have commissioners?
Why not hire a consultant to do the accreditation paperwork instead of establishing a full-time position?
What does the commissioner do all day long after the accredidation process is complete?
If a subsequent administration comes in and wants to abolish the position, how much is that going to cost?

By winkelby (38), westhampton on Feb 5, 15 11:59 AM
Wouldn't an administrative aide or secretary be more cost effective and efficient? I think you could hire someone part-time to do the administerial tasks that they want handled & really save money. Sounds political and pretty stupid.
By beachbme11978 (78), Westhampton Beach on Feb 5, 15 12:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
Who is the guiding light in this debacle. Palmer ? An accountant is the county PD. Why promote Gonce? It looks like the promotion is in "title" only. This is a waste of money. Accreditation just gets you a sticker on the police cars and a pin on the officers chest. but if it's that important to them then what's the rush in getting accreditation. Give Chief Gonce the opportunity to get it done. Hire more officers so the Chief isn't answering calls and can work on it with the help of another officer ...more
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Feb 5, 15 12:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
There is no lunacy like small-town politics and there are no small-town political lunatics like East End municipal politicians. This astoundingly stupid proposal will add an $150 thousand +, utterly unnecessary layer of management to a department whose real need is more boots on the ground (a problem that will remain unaddressed.)

This is nothing more than a transparent, "spoils system" payoff by the new regime to their backers who were so irate that the ancien regime (ex-mayor-Teller ...more
By highhatsize (4183), East Quogue on Feb 5, 15 12:52 PM
1 member liked this comment
Bottom line, whoever on the board votes yes on this proposal should be voted out of office when their term is up for re-election, this means ANY of them!
By ThatsIncredible (4), Westhampton Beach on Feb 5, 15 2:15 PM
The decision has been made... No resolutions come to Village Meetings unless they are already decided..... The candidate....... Friend and colleague of .....
9 Lynn Ave
Hampton Bays, NY 11946

Bill and Rikki
By Big Guy (3), Hampton Bays on Feb 5, 15 2:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
who?
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Feb 5, 15 5:47 PM
Provisonal Chief Gonce was assigned 5 years ago to start the accredition process to reduce the village residents taxes and the municipality expenses. It is obvious that he was not able to complete the task even when he was given the time and office to work on getting WHBPD accredited .It is shameful that WHB Police Dept never has been accredited. Thus costing us all more in taxes.
By Captain11978 (3), Westhampton on Feb 5, 15 6:01 PM
Sez who?
By Frank Wheeler (1823), Northampton on Feb 5, 15 6:36 PM
How does it reduce taxes and expenses?
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Feb 5, 15 10:02 PM
Do I see a chance for Wilson to return to local Police activity without having to void his Police Chief's pension from the Southampton Village and Town??
By Mouthampton (437), Southampton on Feb 5, 15 10:17 PM
1 member liked this comment
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