Sag Harbor Village officials have embarked on a poorly-explained effort to evaluate whether to disband or sharply reduce the village’s police department. Just why they are undertaking this is open to question, as is why they have for the most part chosen to pursue the goal behind closed doors.
The village board met on Sept. 21 in a seemingly illegal, two-hour executive session, after which they voted to seek an arrangement with the Suffolk Sheriff’s Department for partial patrols. The existing police force would be reduced by encouraging eligible officers to take early retirement. The village had already sought and received proposals from the Southampton and East Hampton Town police, but the sheriff’s office apparently offered the best deal in terms of price.
The secrecy is unwarranted and would appear to violate the New York State Open Meetings Law, which allows only limited exemptions. Discussions among a majority of board members about the fate of the Sag Harbor Police Department as a whole must take place in full public view — as should have the decision to seek bids from outside agencies. But even if a few of the details involved fell within the carefully delineated exemptions in the law, it is highly unlikely that a two-hour confab was legal in its entirety.
If there is one matter in which village residents should be involved — perhaps above all others — it is public safety. Though cost-savings would appear to be motivating the board’s consideration of outsourcing some or all village police work, residents must have the opportunity to weigh in as to whether the full cost of their own, hometown department is something they are willing to bear.