Putnam County Sheriff, Odell at Odds Over ‘Defunding the Police’

Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley, Jr. fired back at claims from County Executive MaryEllen Odell that he mismanaged the budget in his department this year and accused Odell of defunding the police in 2021.

The public spat has escalated since the Putnam County Legislature sided with Odell in late October in approving a $30.8 million budget for the Sheriff’s Department, an increase of $763,000 from 2020. However, Langley had requested $716,000 in overtime for police patrol units and only $520,000, the same allocated this year, was given a thumbs up by Odell and the GOP-dominated Legislature.

In addition, funding for the Sheriff’s Department Marine Patrol Unit, which has been in existence since 1998, and the position of civil sergeant, which has been in place for more than 30 years, was cut.
“A full 19% of the entire 2021 adopted budget is allocated to the Sheriff’s Department. Budget mismanagement should not be confused with our funding of the law enforcement agency,” Odell stated. “While the County Legislature and I dedicate a major portion of the budget to law enforcement, we have a duty to see that taxpayer funds are spent wisely. Our focus on overtime spending has never been more necessary, especially due to the devastating economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“False narratives about ‘defunding the police’ are not only untrue, but detract from the hard work that employees in every Putnam County department have done and will continue to do during these unprecedented times,” Odell added.
Langley vehemently disagreed, charging Odell and the Legislature were placing politics ahead of public safety.

“I guess the county executive does not know the meaning of the word defund. Defund means ‘prevent from continuing to receive funds,’” Langley stated in a lengthy release. “The county officials who supported these outlandish cuts to public safety seem to forget they work for the taxpayers of Putnam County, who deserve better, not less, police services.”

“The Sheriff’s Department has followed a long precedence in managing the budget that was never questioned under the past two administrations. It seems that standard business practices that were acceptable under past administrations now only raises questioning by the county when the duly elected sheriff does not share the same party line,” Langley stated. “This sheriff does not play personal politics with public safety or any aspect of the Office of the Sheriff. The sheriff and his command staff have professionally dealt with county officials on all levels and only wants to manage the Sheriff Office’s public safety mandates and operations free from the perceived oversight that some officials think is inherent in budget appropriations.”

Odell singled out some overtime figures from two years ago to support her position. They included: In 2019, $2.8 million was spent on overtime incurred by deputy sheriffs and corrections officers; due to overtime, 48 of the top 100 highest paid county employees in 2019 were deputy sheriffs; three deputy sheriffs earned more than Langley; and five Deputy Sheriffs earned between $50,000 and $77,000 in overtime in 2019.

“I am not disparaging the efforts of the hardworking men and women of the Sheriff’s Department, but overtime costs need to managed in every department or they continue to grow,” Odell stated.

Langley contended increased manpower would reduce a large portion of overtime for shift coverage. But, he noted, incurring overtime was “substantially cheaper” since no additional benefit packages are needed.

“There are many situations that create overtime in the Sheriff’s Department, such as shift coverage due to the lack of staffing resulting from retirements, illness, line of duty injuries, family emergencies, vacations, personal days, compensatory time off, military leave, arrest processing, court appearances, emergency calls near the end of a tour, and training,” Langley stated.

“The fact that deputies made more than the salaried position of the sheriff says that these outstanding members of the department are dedicated to serving the community and this agency,” he stated. “There are several who work available overtime while many prefer to dedicate their time off to their families and friends. Overtime is assigned on a rotational basis. It is a fair and equitable system that provides the same overtime opportunities for all members.”