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St. Lawrence County deputies defend their jobs

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County sheriff’s deputies provide services that should not be eliminated because of a budget crisis, officers said at a press conference Friday.

Flanked at the Best Western/University Inn by fellow members of the Sheriff’s Department and representatives from the Civil Service Employees Association, Sean P. O’Brien, president of the county Deputies Association, rattled off programs handled by deputies.

“Yearly, our members are faced with job loss and elimination and this year is no different,” Mr. O’Brien said. “The St. Lawrence County Deputies Association wants to provide the public with details on what the criminal division actually does and what the public will be without if the criminal division is eliminated or reduced.”

As a nonmandated service, the criminal division has been targeted for possible cutbacks or elimination to reduce a projected 20 percent increase in the county property tax levy.

In addition to investigating criminal complaints, accidents, prisoner transports, family court summonses, orders of protection and other emergencies, deputies track the movement of sex offenders, coordinate the Drug Task Force with other authorities, provide identification cards to children as part of Operation Safe Child, run Project Lifesaver — a safety program for those with medical issues — process fingerprints for pistol permit applications, provide marine patrols, provide a snowmobile patrol, provide mental health transports, have a K-9 unit, and assist other agencies with their investigations, traffic control and locating parole violators.

Deputies have done their part in helping the county by approving a contract that included no increases for base salaries for 2010, 2011 and 2012, Mr. O’Brien said.

He asked for residents to support them on Facebook at the St. Lawrence County Deputies Association and by contacting their legislators.

Mr. O’Brien said he has spoken with Finance Committee Chairman Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, who has raised the deputies as a possible cut, who acknowledged he himself would call the deputies if he was the victim of a crime.

“Our job is more than justified,” Mr. O’Brien said.

He declined comment on where he thought legislators should make cuts.

“We should remain independent and provide service,” he said.

Mr. O’Brien also declined to speculate on how many of the association’s 23 road deputies could lose their jobs. Even though criminal investigation is an unmandated program, the deputies also provide prisoner transports, a required service. Without the deputies, the 62 correctional officers at the jail would have to be trained to fulfill that obligation. That could mean overtime and the hiring of additional staff, he said.

Mr. O’Brien could not predict what would happen to the Drug Task Force without the deputies.

“I would hate to be the people of this county if the Drug Task Force went away,” he said.

Neither Maj. Richard C. Smith Jr. nor Capt. Michael Girard was available to comment on whether state police could pick up the work of the deputies if they were cut back or eliminated.

State police provide the bulk of the criminal investigation — other than the Border Patrol, village police and Akwesasne Mohawk police — in Franklin County, where the Sheriff’s Department has a civil division and deputies whose primary job is to provide prisoner transport.

Franklin County has 39 full-time correctional officers and nine full-time deputies, who together provide transports, Undersheriff Patrick A. White said. The department also has 10 per diem correctional officers who historically do not take trips.

The deputies are trained so they can be used for various law enforcement details, but the county has never had a road patrol, Undersheriff White said.

Not having a road patrol has not left Franklin County immune to budget problems concerning its deputies.

The state Commission of Correction conducted an assessment and determined the county should add 10 positions to reach an acceptable staffing level, Undersheriff White said.

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