County agrees to arm deputies at DMV


By David Avitabile

Concerned about potential violence at the Department of Motor Vehicles office, Schoharie County supervisors Friday agreed to armed part-time deputies guard the office.
In addition to having a deputy guard the office, supervisors also agreed to buy a surveillance system for DMV, which has been housed at Lancaster Development in Richmondville since the flood.
Security may also be beefed up at other county locations.
After observing a moment of silence to remember those who had died in the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy a week prior, Chairman Harold Vroman said that something has to be done about safety in the county office and the DMV.
"It's wide open, anybody can walk in here," Mr. Vroman said of the county building.
He proposed having one entrance into the county building in Schoharie with someone posted in the lobby.
As for the DMV office, supervisors agreed in the fall to install a buzzer system that was to ring into the garage at Lancaster Development if there was any trouble.
Mr. Vroman said supervisors needed to upgrade security at DMV but some supervisors, citing a response time of up to 20 minutes by police, said the buzzer system was not sufficient.
Middleburgh Supervisor Jim Buzon said it was not right to have the buzzer ring into Lancaster Development if there was a problem but said there needed to be a system.
"We can't stone wall this any further," he said.
Larry Bradt of Carlisle said the answer was an armed guard.
"The only thing that's going to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said. Anything else and we're just fooling ourselves."
There have been at least three incidents, not including shouting customers, in which police could have been called to the DMV office this year.
He suggested having a buzzer ring into a law enforcement office and not the garage but Sheriff Tony Desmond said the issue had been discussed and he suggested two possible solutions.
Sheriff Desmond said the county could contract with a security firm for an armed officer, which would not be as expensive as a full-time deputy, or have a surveillance system installed in the DMV office.
In the end, supervisors ended up agreeing to buy the surveillance system and hire two part-time deputies and have a pool of four part-timers who could rotate and guard the office. The deputies will guard the office in all hours of operation until the system is installed. After the system is installed, the deputies will guard the office for a few hours a day but will be available for other duties if needed. The Sheriff said the deputies could be used in schools, if requested by school officials.
The security cameras will be tied into the county dispatch center via telephone line and if activated by a DMV employee, the picture will come on at dispatch. An officer, if not already on duty, will be dispatched to the office and the dispatcher will be able to update the officer on what is happening in the office, Sheriff Desmond said.
Once the DMV office is moved back to the county building, probably next May, the surveillance system can be moved to the county building.
Sheriff Desmond said he has about $14,000 in the budget for part-time officers.
Just having a surveillance system would be cheaper than having a guard but Schoharie Supervisor Gene Milone said money should not be an object.
"You can't put a price tag on human life," he said. "I have a problem with response time. Without physical presence, it's an open door."
Treasurer Bill Cherry said funds can be found in the budget to pay for part-time deputies to cover DMV for five months.
Mr. Buzon said he was concerned about having an armed person at the office.
If an armed person comes into the office, he said, it could result in a direct confrontation and gun fire.
"I'm nervous with putting someone who's armed in there right away," he said.
Mr. Buzon asked that the Sheriff get cost estimates on a surveillance system and Sheriff Desmond returned later in the meeting and said it would cost $5,000 to install the system plus $384 a year for maintenance.
Fulton Supervisor Phil Skowfoe said supervisors should have put more thought into a decision before making "a snap decision."
A camera system would have sufficed, he said.
Mr. Bradt noted that the county cannot protect "everyone, everywhere."
Sheriff Desmond said he would be able to have a deputy on duty at the DMV for at least a few hours on Monday, Christmas eve.