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State police deny allegations of political agenda in Gouverneur’s Wednesday detail

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GOUVERNEUR — Drivers that were pulled over Wednesday in Gouverneur were not subjected to an alleged political message to increase the village’s police force, according to state police.

Members of the community posted more than 175 comments anonymously on the website Topix, some claiming that troopers were ordered to pull over and ticket as many vehicles as they could.

The comments stated that the stops was a message to the understaffed village police force there that state police are tired of having to respond to village complaints, but State Police Capt. Michael J. Girard said is untrue.

The presence of troopers in the village was nothing more than a roving traffic detail that moves from town to town and village to village, Capt. Girard said.

“Law enforcement use directed patrols to help detect and deter criminal activities. State police do both roving and stationary details all over the state,” Capt. Girard said. “The detail last Wednesday happened to take place in the village of Gouverneur where state troopers have been tasked to patrol seven nights a week during the midnight shift. It’s not our business to get involved in the politics of a village but it is our job to maintain public safety.”

These types of patrols are done on a regular basis, the captain said, and troopers could be in Waddington, Hopkinton or Cranberry Lake in the coming weeks doing similar details.

On Wednesday night, there were 45 traffic tickets issued, Capt. Girard said, along with a felony driving while intoxicated , a felony aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and a vehicle that had marijuana in it.

“I was there that night and the last thing I said to them was make sure you have probable cause for anyone that gets pulled over, which I know they would anyways, and I didn’t hear any complaining from people,” Capt. Girard said.

And although the state police do these roving details, they haven’t conducted one like this in the village of Gouverneur in the last year, Capt. Girard said, which is why people in the village are reacting the way they are to the trooper’s presence last week.

Capt. Girard said the controversy over the detail in the village Wednesday is a result of people not being used to seeing a greater state police presence along Route 11 in the village.

“Unique to this (detail), that is a post for us,” Capt. Girard said. “We have the village Gouverneur on the midnight shift, seven nights a week.”

That seven night a week patrol that troopers have been tasked with, however, is a direct result of the understaffed village police force, Capt. Girard said, and it has been like that for two years.

The village police department has been short-staffed for some time, and more so in recent months.

On Sept. 4, the village Board of Trustees suspended with pay Officer Steven M. Young, who is also chief of Gouverneur Fire Department, pending the outcome of an investigation by state police. Mr. Young is one of six officers — including another who is out on medical leave — two patrolmen, a sergeant and Chief Gordon F. Ayen who make up the force.

Prior to Monday, state police have refused to confirm Mr. Young is being investigated. Capt. Girard said the investigation into Mr. Young had nothing to do with Wednesday night’s detail but said that concluding the investigation and having that position filled again would help to alleviate the pressures troopers are facing in the village.

Chief Gordon F. Ayen Jr. and Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said they were unaware the state police blanket coverage was planned.

“I had no prior information and have had no conversation about it since the detail occurred,” Sheriff Wells said in an email. “This was a State Police detail only.”

Chief Ayen said he had not spoken with anyone from the state police prior to or since Wednesday’s detail.

“They don’t always coordinate,” Chief Ayen said. “Sometimes they are done from the state. It could be a grant that has been issued and they set aside a times when they conduct the details.”

Chief Ayen said there are times when village patrols are not available and outside law enforcement needs to come in and patrol anywhere between 50 to 60 hours a week.

“I just think the number of personnel that they had is what alarmed people,” Chief Ayen said of the detail. “Normally when a detail is going on, I try to involve my people as much as possible, unfortunately I had one patrolman on that night and it is hard to dedicate that time to details when you are responding to other calls and complaints.”

“It’s something out of our control,” Capt. Girard said. “You can’t rush an investigation but I know that Chief Gordy Ayen is doing everything he can do with the resources that he has.”

Captain Girard said the accusations that state police have been ordered by Maj. Richard C. Smith to descend on the village and to pull everyone over and issue tickets “couldn‘t be further from the truth.”

“You have to remember that there were a lot of breaks given that night too. Not everybody got a ticket,” Capt. Girard said. “So it’s not true. You get a handful of people that for some reason they don’t like law enforcement and they are going to mudsling.”

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