Institution police issue comes to forefront

CHAUTAUQUA — State police were on hand for author Salman Rushdie’s lecture on Friday at Chautauqua Institution. But there were not fully authorized Chautauqua town police officers on grounds because efforts to create the department have fallen apart.

In 2020, it was announced by the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office that security personnel at Chautauqua Institution would no longer be designated as “special deputies.” It was a decision based on a change at the state level.

That announcement spun an attempt to create a Chautauqua Town Police Department, where the Institution would fund a department and the officers would be deputized as town constables. For two years, town, Institution officials and their attorneys discussed the issue. At times it seemed they were getting close. In an article published on Feb. 13, 2021, Supervisor Don Emhardt stated, “We’re still working our way through it.

We met twice with the Department of Justice. We’re basically making sure our I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed so that we get everything right.”

Still nothing was finalized.

In July of this year, Richard Reiser, an Institution resident, appeared at the monthly Town Board meeting. He said he was there on behalf of the Chautauqua Property Owners Association and inquired about the status of the constables. “As you probably know there are a couple people over there who carry guns, who wear uniforms, they drive around in cars that say Chautauqua Police on them. In addition they have something called Community Service Officers that operate out of the police department, that primarily seem to give out parking tickets and sometimes a speeding ticket, something like that, asking people to slow down on the grounds. … One of my questions is what are their powers?” he said.

Reiser said one of the big concerns of the Properties Assocation is the officers and the 911 system. “Right now the way it works is if you call 911, you get the Sheriff’s Office and the central dispatch center. They then will call Chautauqua Fire Department if it’s a medical emergency or a fire, but if it’s a police problem they don’t necessarily call. They may call, they may not call … so the local police officers are sometimes not brought into the loop and they might be the ones that could respond the fastest,” he said.

Town Councilman Al Akin said the town and the Institution’s attorneys were supposed to be working on creating the town police department, “but that has basically fallen flat in the last couple of months.”

Without an official Chautauqua Town Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office is not required to include the Institution officers on the 911 calls. “If there is a town police department, the officers of the Institution are town officers and the Sheriff must call them,” said Chautauqua town attorney Joel Seachrist.

At August’s monthly meeting, which took place on Monday, The Post-Journal/OBSERVER asked for an update on the situation with the creation of the Chautauqua Town Police Department.

“We’re waiting until after the November elections,” responded Emhardt.

Emhardt didn’t say why they’re waiting until after Nov. 8, other than, “It was at the Institution’s request.”


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