Rockland County leaders have stepped up to help the district attorney save the successful countywide Drug Task Force by footing the bill for police officers themselves starting in 2013, District Attorney Tom Zugibe said Saturday.
The newly named Regional Investigative Resources Center will be joined by the Investigative Technology Support Center and the Organized Crime and Gang Investigation Unit which works countywide to combat gangs and drugs.
Officials from Haverstraw, Clarkstown, Ramapo and Suffern have already latched on to the proposal that was presented to the County Legislature's Budget and Finance Committee this past week, Zugibe said.
Five officers are in the unit, which was established in 1975.
"It was set up in order to fight narcotics activity," Zugibe said, "and you have to do it on as broad of a base as possible."
Instead of giving towns a bigger chuck of county sales tax revenues, the county government struck a deal a few years back with the towns and their respective police departments to reimburse the salary and benefits for each officer lent to the task force, Zugibe said.
"I had a conniption when I found out that decision was made behind my back," Zugibe said. "That's when I became a pawn. Now the county is saying they don't have the money, the towns said they didn't have the manpower and that left us high and dry."
Zugibe and town officials have said they were told to not expect the $1 million in reimbursement funds from the county starting in 2013. Ron Levine, a spokesman for Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, contends that their budget is not yet set in stone and will not be finalized until Oct. 23.
The county is facing a $15 million budget deficit for this fiscal year.
"I knew I had to come up with a solution," Zugibe said. "I met with the supervisors of the towns and the mayors and worked out a full-service sharing type agreement with them."
Under the terms, the towns that participate will be given a seat on the policy board to rule on the center's activities and will receive a share of asset forfeiture money that stems from drug-related seizures.
"I'm very grateful to them," Zugibe said of town and police officials. "The county is responsible for basic hard costs like they have been in the past but the towns are contributing their men without reimbursement."
Five officers from the local municipalities will join 14 full-time county employees who will be working in the unit including support staff and undercover agents, Zugibe said.
The 20th member will be an officer from the Department of Homeland Security.
"We work very closely with DHS, the FBI and the DEA and we're looking to enhance those relationships and bring more officers on board," Zugibe said.
The plan still needs legislative and executive approval, which Zugibe hopes to land within weeks.
"It really is a win-win situation," Zugibe said. "We'll be able to continue our efforts without decreasing services and ensure its continuation for the future without county funding."
Next week, Zugibe hopes to sit down with officials from Orangetown and Spring Valley to gauge their interest.
Chris Goldrick, the director of the Rockland County Drug Task Force, was pleased that the unit will continue to fight the county's ongoing illegal drug problem.
"There's no borders when it comes to drugs," said Goldrick. "It's a fundamental structure that needs to be there in order for this to be run and for it to work. The involvement from the local municipalities is key, they're our core."