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City of Watertown will have to absorb police overtime costs for jail change


WATERTOWN — City officials were still working out the details before Wednesday morning’s deadline that will change the way suspects arrested by city police are held prior to arraignment.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, prearraignment suspects will be taken to a pair of lockups at City Hall, rather than the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building, as has been the practice for 22 years.

On Friday, city officials received a temporary reprieve from a directive by the state Commission of Correction that no longer permits unarraigned suspects arrested by city police to be held in county lockup.

As a result of the change, it will cost the city more in Police Department overtime, City Attorney Robert J. Slye said Monday.

The state will require police officers to be present when suspects are kept in the holding cells, which are situated in the Watertown City Court area on the first floor of City Hall, he said.

In the past, city officers placed suspects in holding cells at the public safety building to await arraignment by a City Court judge on the criminal charges. Mostly, that no longer will be allowed.

On Monday, Police Chief Gary R. Comins said the city is working with the state Commission of Correction to make sure the city lockups follow state regulations for unarraigned suspects.

“We’re still working on it,” Chief Comins said. “By 12:01 Wednesday, we should have everything in place.”

The two small cells, comparable to the ones at the public safety building, have gone unused since the police department moved out of City Hall and into the public safety building in 1992.

On Sunday, a group of city police officers toured the City Hall lockup to familiarize themselves with the facilities.

“I’m just showing them what we have to work with,” Sgt. Christopher Thomas said.

At times, police officers working their beats will be assigned to man the lockups, Chief Comins said. When the city is “in a bind,” Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said, area judges and justices will perform evening arraignments. That should cut down on the cost of overtime, he said, because after suspects are arraigned, they may be held in the county lockup if the judge so orders.

Citing concerns over security, Chief Comins would not reveal how many officers will be working at the City Hall lockups at any given time, which means it is not known yet how much police overtime will be required.

An agreement was reached on Friday after Mr. Slye met with Judge James C. Tormey, the Fifth Judicial District’s administrative judge, who oversees City Court.

On March 28, Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns informed Chief Comins that as of Wednesday, the county lockup no longer can hold prearraignment suspects, under state corrections law. The deadline left city and county officials scrambling to change a system that has operated for the past 20 years.

County officials will continue to seek home-rule legislation for Jefferson County to get an exemption from the Commission on Correction law regarding unarraigned suspects.

The Public Safety Building includes six holding areas where suspects arrested for everything from bar fights to driving while intoxicated are held overnight and on weekends before arraignment on criminal charges. The rooms are simple and unadorned, with steel toilets and concrete walls.

When the PSB was built, those cells were not considered part of the jail; they were seen as a separate unit for securing suspects before arraignment.

The commission, however, considers those holding cells to be within the confines of the county jail. Corrections law does not allow the sheriff to hold individuals without a court order, arraignment or indictment, county officials said.

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