Is police road to Whitehall Central School even legally needed?

B y Lee Tugas

The idea of a town and village municipal agreement granting village police legal jurisdiction on school may not be needed.

According to Whitehall Supervisor George Armstrong, village police may already have all of the legal jurisdiction and insurance protection on school grounds that it needs, without drafting a new piece of local legislation.

And Village Police Chief Matt Dickinson confirmed that village police can act as a surrogate for the county Sheriff’s Department in case of “emergencies.”

The key word is emergency

The key word is the word emergency. A copy of a memo from village Attorney Erika Sellar Ryan to Mayor Peter Telisky states that absent an agreement between the town and the village “the jurisdiction of the village police is limited to the jurisdictional boundaries of the village.”

But Chief Dickinson last week said village police can respond to “emergency” calls from the school when authorized by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.

That opinion by is confirmed by the letter from Sellar to Telisky.

The letter describes “emergency circumstances” that warrant village police on school grounds:

“Some examples would be,” the letter states, “an intruder at the school, believed to be dangerous; a hostage situation; a fire necessitating the direction of traffic; an event whereby county dispatch requested backup or intervention by village police.”

The letter also states exactly where the village police have no authority on school grounds:

Only a drug search by state police or sheriff’s deputies is legally valid. A search by village police would simply result in “forfeiture of evidence.” Village police have no business, the letter states, inserting themselves in a “common dispute at the school between a teacher and a student,” nor can village police ‘find’ or ‘happen across’ a crime or offense at the school and take action.

The letter makes it explicit that the only time village police can legally act at Whitehall Central School is in response to those emergency situations outlined in the letter. And that, Armstrong said, is pretty much what he was told, word for word, by the Washington County Sheriff.

For that reason, he “sees no need to do anything” about drafting a joint municipal agreement with the village. “Right now, I have no plans to pursue the idea any further,” Armstrong said.

Good idea meets better idea

The original idea to draft a joint town and village municipal agreement was suggested by Village Trustee Ken Bartholomew in early autumn. At the time the village and town boards were concerned that village police might not have full legal authority and liability protection on school grounds.

But in the wake of this legal opinion by Sellar, that mindset may have changed.

In an email to all village police officers, Bartholomew writes as follows:

“As of this date, Nov. 14, 2013, no village of Whitehall police officer will be on Whitehall Central School property unless there are ‘emergency circumstances’ or county dispatch requests back-up or intervention by the village police in an emergency.

“Violation of this directive would result in no protection for the officer as he or she would be operating outside the scope of their authority,” the email states.

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