Retired sergeant to lead Whitehall PD after resignations

By EJ Conzola II

NYVT Media

A retired Whitehall police sergeant will serve as the officer-in-charge of his former department as village officials decide how they will ensure the village has police protection in the wake of resignations that will leave the agency with no full-time officers.

Richard LaChappelle, who retired from the force in 2017 after three decades in law enforcement, will be responsible for scheduling and overseeing the eight part-timers who will make up the entire village police force as of June 6, Mayor Julie Eagan said May 31. LaChapelle will serve in that role until village officials decide how they want to move forward after a series of recent resignations decimated the department.

All of the resignations have been attributed to higher salaries paid by other law enforcement agencies.

The part-timers – several of whom hold full-time law enforcement positions with other agencies — will provide police services based on their availability, Eagan said. When no part-timers are available, Washington County sheriff’s deputies and New York State Police troopers will cover the village, she said.

The combination will make sure the village has police protection at all times, Eagan stressed.

The arrangement is expected to last at least several months, as village officials explore options for a more permanent solution to the problem.

LaChapelle could not immediately be reached for comment.

The announcement came two days after the Village Board met with Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey J. Murphy to talk about a possible contract between the village and his department to take over police protection in the village.

Murphy presented a plan to provide “specialized protection” to Whitehall if trustees decide to dissolve the department and contract for law enforcement services with the county.

The village is studying three possible responses to the resignation: contracting with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement services; rebuilding the police department; or creating a sort of “hybrid” department that would involve the sheriff’s office and the current part-time officers who will be the only active law enforcement dedicated to the village once Ptl. Paula Wilbur’s resignation takes effect.

None of those options can be implemented quickly, Village Attorney Matt Fuller – who was involved in a similar situation in Fort Edward — cautioned the board. Fuller is the village attorney for both municipalities.

Fort Edward dissolved its police department and is ending its first year of contracting with the sheriff’s office.

If the board decides to try to rebuild the department, it will have to recruit new people to staff it – including a chief, Fuller said. Finding people interested in filling law enforcement roles has been difficult for many agencies – particularly small ones such as Whitehall’s, Murphy noted.

“A lot of small villages across the state (are) having similar problems,” Murphy said. “A lot of people are in the position the village is in.”

Eagan has previously noted that the county’s Civil Service list of people eligible to be hired as police officers is currently empty.

If the new officers have no prior law enforcement experience, they would have to attend a training academy before being allowed to patrol on their own – meaning it could be months before the vacant police positions could be effectively filled.

Contracting with the sheriff’s office would mean dissolving the police department – an action that also would take several months, Fuller said. The process would involve one or more public hearings prior to the adoption of a local law, which in turn would be subject to a permissive referendum. Members of the public could submit a petition calling for the referendum or the Village Board could call for the vote on its own, Fuller said.

“It’s not a fast process,” Fuller said.

Creation of a hybrid agency would involve drawing up a detailed plan outlining the responsibilities of both deputies and village officers – a task that could also take several months, Fuller noted. The hybrid would also require acceptance by both the village and sheriff’s office – something Murphy indicated he would be reluctant to agree to.

Eagan said the Village Board plans to hold several information sessions to gather public input on how the village should proceed. Those sessions have not yet been scheduled, as the village is waiting for more details from Murphy – particularly cost estimates – before taking the matter to the public, the mayor said

Under the plan Murphy presented to the Village Board, the sheriff’s office would provide a dedicated patrol car and deputy to the village 20 hours per day, seven days a week. Between the hours of 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., coverage for the village would be provided by the normal sheriff’s road patrol and the State Police.

The hours when the village would not have a dedicated deputy reflect the low volume of calls police typically receive during that period, Murphy said. Village police responded to 166 calls in that four-hour block in 2023 out of the 2,504 total calls that year, according to Murphy’s presentation.

The plan also calls for the Whitehall deputy to be responsible for law enforcement not only in the village but in a small area of the town surrounding the village. The area would include the Whitehall Central School District campus and a small portion of the Town of Dresden on the other side of South Bay – both of which are outside the village but have been locations where village police have responded to calls when other agencies have not been immediately available.

Similarly, deputies assigned to Whitehall could be called out of the area in response to major crimes when they are the nearest available unit, Murphy said. If that were to happen, the unit would be relieved at the scene and returned to Whitehall as soon as possible, he said.

The plan would require the sheriff’s office to hire four deputies, whose salaries and benefits would be paid for by the village, Murphy said.