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By Mitchell Freedman
New York Newsday

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - About 100 police officers and their supporters gathered on the steps of Southampton Town Hall yesterday to protest a move by Supervisor Linda Kabot to terminate the jobs of six veteran police officers in the 92-member town police department.
Kabot, saying that she was implementing a plan by the town's police chief to deal with an aging department, had prepared a resolution that would authorize the rehiring for 2009 of all but six police officers who have been on the force for more than 20 years.
Those six, who would be terminated effective Dec. 31, include Lyle Smith, who was injured in an accident on his police motorcycle in June and who Kabot earlier this year had named Officer of the Year.
"I was going to work on June 13 and I collided with a deer," he said. He suffered several broken bones, and is scheduled for more surgery in October.
But last night, as uniformed town police lined the walls of the town board room, Kabot announced the controversial resolution that was on the agenda, would be tabled until the Sept. 23 town board meeting.
Kabot said before the vote the town board will meet in executive session with Patrick Aube, president of the Southampton PBA, and lawyers for the union and the town. "It [the meeting] will be closed to the public," she said. She said the town board was implementing a plan by the police chief to have some veteran officers retire so they can be replaced with new hires. Currently, one-third of the 92 officers in the town police are eligible for retirement, she said.
The protesters yesterday morning included members of nearly 20 different police agencies. Richard Wells, president of the Police Conference of New York - an alliance of 216 local PBA's statewide - said that Southampton is the only town which has the power to force an officer into retirement after 20 years of service, but he worried that Kabot's action could start a trend across the state with municipalities looking to replace senior officers with less-expensive, younger men and women.
"This will have a chilling effect on every officer in the state," Wells said, adding that many police officers working the streets will be thinking, "If I get hurt, they can cast me aside without any employment."
Wells said that the only other municipality in New York State which can force 20-year police veterans into retirement is the village of Westhampton Beach. Village Mayor Conrad Teller, a former police chief himself, said no one on his village board has ever contemplated laying off veteran officers to save money.
Last week Kabot noted that the town's police fund deficit had grown from $4 million to more than $4.5 million at the end of 2007, and yesterday said it was necessary to "trim" a half dozen officers - all of whom make more than $100,000 a year - to make way for new recruits.
The proposed termination appears to be in conflict with a provision in state law which states that police officers cannot be forced to retire until the reach the age of 60.
Wells, who noted Southampton's power to terminate its town police after 20 years had never been tested in court, said that both houses of the state legislature this year passed a bill increasing that retirement age to 65, although it has not yet been signed by the governor.
The controversy over the six officers also sets the stage for a possibly bitter negotiation between the town and its Civil Service Employees Association, whose contracts for both white-collar and blue-collar workers expire at year's end. "She's thrown a hand grenade. I don't know if it will explode or implode," said CSEA president Peter Collins.

Wire Service
 
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