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Bill allowing prearraignment Watertown suspects to stay at PSB passes Senate

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WATERTOWN — A measure to allow prearraignment city suspects to be housed at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building moved a step closer Wednesday when the state Senate approved a shared-services bill authored by state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.

Ever since the PSB’s 1992 construction, suspects arrested by city police were held there to await arraignment. That changed April 16 after the state Commission of Correction directed that the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department not house prearraignment suspects in contradiction to state law.

Since then the city has used two holding cells on City Hall’s first floor, where City Court is situated, to keep detainees pending arraignment. The state’s Fifth Judicial District approved the arrangement and authorized three town justices to assist the city’s two judges, Eugene R. Renzi and Catherine J. Palermo, with arraignments while the court is closed.

The Senate-approved bill allows a “special holding arrangement,” authorizing prearraignment city suspects to again be held at the PSB, according to a statement from Sen. Ritchie.

“The state is challenging local governments to find ways to share services, cut costs and provide relief for local taxpayers,” Sen. Ritchie said in the statement. “This bill is a good example of how government at every level can work together — and work quickly — to find sensible solutions that improve efficiency and reduce costs.”

The bill has been sent to the Assembly for action. If approved, it goes to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s desk.

When enacted, the city and county can devise an arrangement for prearraignment suspects. The bill is not limited to the city, as the county can come to similar agreements with other police agencies.

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