Changes Salerno restructures Altamont Police

Salerno restructures Altamont Police

ALTAMONT — The village’s new police commissioner is restructuring the department. As part of this, three officers recently resigned and five others got letters from Anthony Salerno Monday, stating that he couldn’t fit them into the future work schedule.

One of the officers, Ryan Mahan, plans on discussing the legality of this, said his attorney, Stephen Coffey. Mahan could not be reached for comment.

Coffey also represents Officer Marc Dorsey, who is suing the village. (See related story.)
Asked why he thought Mahan might be upset, Salerno said, "I don’t have a clue. We have a new set of directives and we want those directives met. Maybe some people don’t want to work for a para-military organization."
Of Mahan’s situation, Salerno stressed, "No one has been fired. We’re strictly restructuring for the welfare of the community."

Mayor James Gaughan agreed, although, he told The Enterprise, the phrase "para-military" makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Perhaps Salerno chose the wrong description, Gaughan said. The commissioner was simply trying to convey that the police department is an authoritarian structure that depends upon a chain of command and following orders, Gaughan said.

New direction

The Altamont Police Department has seen several changes over the past two years, starting with a committee that was formed in the spring of 2004.

The committee was formed in the wake of villagers’ complaints that Altamont had too many police officers. While former Mayor Paul DeSarbo defended the force, he and the village board then agreed to appoint a committee to study the department.

A survey created by the committee found that residents and businesses wanted fewer part-time officers — it had 16 at the time for a village of about 1,800; more community policing; and a police commissioner able to make arrests who is a presence in the village.

Mahan wrote a letter to the village board at the time because he was switching from working full-time to part-time.
In the letter, he wrote of himself and other officers, "We have been picked apart by a new committee. Morale is very low right now."

At the same time, many residents shared warm memories of two long-time past police chiefs — Howard Diehl and George Pratt — who had personally known villagers as they enforced the law.
One resident wrote the Enterprise editor, "That was a time when the police (all of them) knew and respected the residents of this village. No police commissioners here, just a chief. He fostered respect from the children and adults because they knew that they would be treated in a just manner."

When Robert Coleman, a retired Albany policeman, took command in 2001, the Altamont Police Department had nine part-time officers.

In addition to running the Altamont Police Department, Coleman was on the board of directors for the Eastern Law Enforcement Training Center, a new police training academy housed at the Peter D. Young Center, on Route 156 just above the village.

Coleman said he helped establish the school for those recruits not able to attend the full-time training center. Police agencies from a 10-county area, including some from Altamont, send their new recruits to the training center.

In this spring’s election, Gaughan, who chaired the police-review committee, ousted DeSarbo. Two other committee members, Kerry Dineen and Dean Whalen, also gained seats on the village board.

In January, Coleman offered his resignation as commissioner following the committee’s report to the village board.

Subsequently, the new administration went through a screening process to hire a new commissioner and, in August, Salerno was appointed.
Salerno’s appointment, Gaughan said Wednesday, "was because of his experience, knowledge, ability, and organization."

Salerno is also a barber, who works full-time at night as an investigator for the Albany Police Department, a job he has held for 19 years. He became interested in the Altamont position when several village residents suggested he apply, he said.
"When you’re fair, it sets a good example in today’s society and they know that about me," Salerno said in August. "It’s a position I feel I had to take for the community. My top focus is the people in the village."

Salerno told The Enterprise Wednesday, "We’re in the process of making a professional police department. We’re working out scheduling; we want to have permanent officers assigned to the same days.
"We want a cohesive force that’s accountable for everyone’s actions," he said. "We want to build a relationship in the community."
"He’s doing exactly what the village board has asked him to do," Gaughan said Wednesday. "He’s making a structured organization that depends on a very strict chain of command."
"I feel people are seeing a dramatic change," Salerno said. "We’re meeting the needs of the public."
Recently, three officers resigned from the police department. Asked why, Salerno said, "They realized they couldn’t meet their obligations."

His restructuring has included mandated training, he said.

Monday, five officers were told they couldn’t be worked into the police schedule right now, Salerno said.
When Salerno began working for the village, he said that many officers were employed by the village but never worked. "Or they worked when they felt like it," he said.

This is going to change, he said.

Of Mahan, Salerno said, since he works full-time in Saratoga County, it has been difficult to schedule him for Altamont work.

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