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Lakewood: No On-Duty Officers For Walmart

Lakewood-Busti Police Chief John Bentley recommended the Lakewood Village Board decline a request by Walmart to have officers provide security while on duty during the holiday season. P-J photo by Cameron Hurst

LAKEWOOD — A motion to authorize on-duty officers with the Lakewood-Busti Police Department to work as special police protection at Walmart during the upcoming holiday shopping season was denied by the Lakewood Village Board during Monday night’s meeting.

The board’s decision to decline the motion came at the suggestion of village attorney John LaMancuso and police Chief John Bentley, who advised against the measure due to liability concerns. Further discussion was also tabled until the board’s next meeting on Nov. 23.

A representative from Walmart had requested a “cruiser and police officers in uniform” during the weekends of Nov. 14, 21 and 28, according to Mayor Randy Holcomb. Bentley had been approached with the idea from a representative of the local police benevolent association. Walmart representatives had offered to reimburse or donate wage amounts the officers had worked.

“They initially came to me and asked if I would allow them to do this as private security, but in uniform and in a car. … I refused to do that,” Bentley said. “That part of it I still refuse to do. … If they want to do this as a PBA and work as private security officers out of uniform and without a patrol car, that’s something that’s on them. That’s something they’ll have to deal with for whatever rate of pay it is that Walmart would be willing to pay them.”

“I think it’s advisable to avoid a connection between a donation and the service being provided,” LaMancuso said. “We reviewed some of the opinions that have been provided by comptroller’s opinions and the opinions of the attorney general. Unfortunately, those opinions basically say that police services are to be provided in a community everywhere where appropriate and they shouldn’t be provided in certain places in exchange for additional monies from private entities such as Walmart.”

He added, “It could be police officers off-duty if that’s permissible under the rules of the police department. But unfortunately, it can’t be done in exchange for money by the village.”

Trustee Ted McCague agreed with Bentley’s and LaMancuso’s assessments.

“I don’t know if we have the manpower to cover our own shifts let alone start assigning people to Walmart,” he said. “The second thing is they can’t be in Walmart in officer’s uniforms or with the officer’s cars if they choose to moonlight for Walmart where Walmart pays them directly then that’s fine. I don’t think it’s probable for us to offer our officers to them, on our schedule, at our cost and during the time that we need them on the street.”

“There has to be some kind of compensation,” Bentley said. “If they did it based on the premise that they would do it as private security, out of uniform, without a car, then I don’t have a problem with it. But if we’re going to do it in uniform, then we’d have to make some kind of arrangements to cover our liability there.”

“I don’t want to prevent the officers the opportunity to make some extra money, but they can’t do it outside of what you just said,” McCague said in agreement.

Bentley said that apparently other municipalities have formulated some sort of agreement with Walmart for this same purpose.

“I don’t know how they’re becoming compensated and covered,” Bentley said. “Otherwise, I don’t have any more information other than what I originally received from the PBA representative when he came in talking about it. … I don’t begrudge the guys getting some extra work and extra pay. No offense to the guys, but we need to make some arrangements to make it workout otherwise.”

LaMancuso did explain that Walmart is able to donate to the village’s shared police department with the town of Busti on its own merits without any services provided in return.

“I don’t think that’s a problem,” he said. “But if it’s connected in any way to the provision of specific police services with details, then the current state of the law in New York is that it’s inadvisable.”

The police department and Walmart have a longstanding relationship, Bentley explained to The Post-Journal on Tuesday, calling it a “busy relationship, but a good relationship. (Walmart) does try very hard to assist us.”

Of the 8,974 calls the to which the department responded in 2018, 653 of them — 7.3% — were for crime perpetrated at the supercenter. 181 calls were the result of Walmart larcenies.

“We’re pretty much on track with that this year,” Bentley said. “We’ll be either at that mark or be somewhat above it. We respond to everything there from larcenies to assaults to disorderly conduct. We’ve even had deer accidents in the parking lot.”

During the meeting, the board also accepted the resignation of Sgt. Jeffrey G. Spencer, a member of the department since Aug. 15, 2000. Spencer plans to retire.

Holcomb also reminded residents that paper and cardboard will be collected on the first and third weeks of the month and that glass is no longer accepted to the county landfill, as per an authorized motion agreed upon last meeting.

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