Residents press for budget metrics, cuts
YATES COUNTY—A group of area residents and business owners have begun asking members of the Yates County legislature and public safety department about making comparisons and cuts for the 2014 budget.
Resident Steve Marchionda, who said he is conducting a independent study of the Yates County budget during the February finance committee meeting, said he began comparing the public safety budget and arrest data from 1979 to 2011 using the Yates County budget and annual sheriff’s report to the legislature. He said he has found since 1979, the sheriff’s department has gone from 14 sworn officer positions to 28 in 2011. Meanwhile Marchionda said the number of arrests in Yates County fell from 1,386 in 1979 to less than half that amount to 616 in 2011.
Marchionda said the costs for public safety have gone up as well since 1979. He said the number for all sworn officer costs in the Yates County Sheriff’s Office amounted to $1,602,737, up from $207,438 in 1979.
“What really gets my attention is there have been three murders in Yates County in the last 10 or 15 years and not a one of them has been solved,” Marchionda said. “Where are our priorities? That also comes into play when you look at our numbers on non-criminal complaints versus criminal complaints.” Marchionda said criminal complaints investigated are actually down in 2011 from 1979. However, non-criminal complaints are up 10,000 in 2011.
“What took us to that point?” Marchionda said. “Is that why we are spending five times as much?”
County Administrator Sarah Purdy responded saying she had made a statement during the Monday, Feb. 11 legislative meeting regarding the increase in complexity of the crimes committed since 1979. However, she said she was referring only to the position of the deputy sheriff criminal investigator that was refilled during the meeting, not to any other law enforcement operations. She said the last time the sheriff’s office had only two investigators was in 1979, and to have that level now would be problematic.
Referring to the overall comparison between Yates County in 1979 and 2011, Purdy said changes over time make it hard to compare the data effectively.
“There has been a myriad of new laws passed by New York State since 1979 that codify as criminal offenses activities that either were not considered crimes in 1979 or did not exist in 1979,” Purdy said. “Given that this has happened, I am not certain of the relevancy of comparing criminal statistics over a span of 32 years, but I would welcome the opportunity to sit down with whoever made the comparisons in order to discuss this and also to discuss the data interpretation.”
Marchionda also indicated a trend showing Yates County has had a higher juvenile crime rate than counties with a similar population size. With a population of 25,454 in 2011, Yates County had a total of 82 juvenile arrests, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) website.
“If these laws that we are living under today were in place when I was a kid, I would be in prison,” Marchionda said. “Kids do goofy stuff. Prosecutors nowadays pile charges on hopefully so they will get a plea bargain for something lower, and that gets them a conviction.”
According to the DCJS website, when compared to counties with a similar population size like Lewis, Schuyler, Wyoming and Essex Counties, Yates County has more juvenile arrests than all of them in 2011. The only county, of those named, that had more juvenile arrests since 2007 was Essex County, who was overtaken by Yates in 2009. Nearby Schuyler County, with a 2011 population of 18,361, only had 14 juvenile arrests that year. Yates County recorded 82 arrests for 2011. For a table of juvenile arrest data in all New York counties since 2007, visit http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/crimnet/ojsa/juvenilearrests/county-totals.pdf.
“Why are they [the arrest rates] so high? I don’t know, but we should find out,” Marchionda said. “Do we have a sinkhole here in Yates County where all the bad kids go? I’m not buying that.”
However, Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike argued these numbers, saying not all juveniles the department comes into contact with are arrested.
“We make few juvenile arrests (physically handcuffing and taking into custody),” Spike said. “We do have ‘contact’ with juveniles involved in offenses that if they were an adult could be arrested. However, I have always believed that we can have justice without bars and handling of juveniles appropriately can change the course or path of a child life to being a better citizen.”
Spike also said other agencies have been known to have discrepancies when it comes to which crimes they report to the DCJS and which they do not.
“Not all statistical data is derived, collected or reported the same to DCJS by various law enforcement agencies when you do comparisons,” Spike said. “Some agencies only report ‘crimes.’ Some I have heard only report ‘felonies.’”
Spike said it is important to remember crimes are either misdemeanors or felonies, with lower offenses being violations. He said violations like trespassing, harassment, disorderly conduct and underage possession of alcohol or marijuana make up the majority of the sheriff’s department’s interactions with juveniles.
“The warning by a deputy sheriff and referral to the youth officer for follow-up with parents etc. is the most common resolve,” Spike said. “The number of juveniles we interact with for criminal behavior has dropped considerably to what it was a decade ago or so.”
This article was revised on March 12, 2013 due to the following correction:
In the Wednesday, March 6 issue of The Observer and online at observer-review.com, in the story "Residents press for budget metrics, cuts," Steve Marchionda's quote saying "The trend is just unbelievable and when you compare it to other counties, we are terrible," is in regard to the number of juvenile arrests in Yates County, not the increase of sworn officer positions and decrease in number of arrests in Yates County since 1979.