Detective stakeout hours cost Rotterdam $72K
ROTTERDAM Investigating a plot to harass and terrorize a local man with explosive devices didn’t come cheap for the Rotterdam Police.
Keeping around-the-clock watch of the East Claremont Avenue home that was targeted by the attacks in March took a lot of manpower. And those detectives ended up working long hours — which consumed roughly a third of the department’s overtime budget last spring.
The investigation that led to the arrest of accused arsonist Larry Ahrens and three alleged accomplices came at an overtime price tag of $72,000. Rotterdam Police are now feeling the pinch from this expense, which has left the department scrambling to find cost-cutting measures in the closing months of the year.
Deputy Chief William Manikas declined to discuss the investigation in detail, but said it easily constituted the most costly he’s seen with the department. He said cracking the case relied on a minimum of five detectives working around the clock for roughly eight weeks.
“They were all actively engaged in one part of the investigation or another,” he said.
Rotterdam Police also relied on assistance from the state police and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Manikas estimated the state and federal costs accrued by the investigation could easily double its overall price.
But it’s a cost the department couldn’t have avoided. Manikas said the investigation was time-sensitive and simply required the undivided attention of the department, which wouldn’t have been fulfilling its obligation to the public if it hadn’t launched such an active probe.
“If we didn’t engage in this investigation, we be failing in our core activity as a police department, which is to protect the community we serve,” he said.
Police believe Ahrens, 33, masterminded a series of attacks on the home aimed at terrorizing its owner — a man in his 40s who had been dating his ex-girlfriend. Over the course of a month, he allegedly hired a trio of individuals to either vandalize the home or detonate small explosive devices around it.
Investigators believe Ahrens first paid 31-year-old Michael Garry to vandalize the siding of the man’s home with a screwdriver on one occasion and then detonate an explosive device on the man’s truck on another. When Garry was arrested on unrelated drug charges, Ahrens allegedly solicited the help of others.
On St. Patrick’s Day, another homemade explosive device smashed the man’s bedroom window as he slept and then blew up on the front porch. One week later, yet another explosive device detonated near a dormer on the second floor of the home.
Rotterdam police suspected Ahrens in the case and began a 24-hour stakeout of the targeted home. Weeks went by without another incident until mid-April when investigators spotted 33-year-old Michael Chambers pitching an explosive device at the house from the passenger side of a slow-moving vehicle.
Police quickly flagged the driver — 31-year old Amy Brzoza — who then tried to flee down Sherman Street. But two unmarked police vehicles, including one driven by Rotterdam Police Chief James Hamilton, blocked her path and she crashed the vehicle into the police cars.
Ahrens was arrested on Crane Street the following morning. All three suspects were charged with one count of first-degree arson and two counts of third-degree arson.
Chambers pleaded guilty to one count of attempted arson earlier this month, while Garry admitted to a count of arson plus an unrelated drug charge in late September. Both could face up to 15 years in prison. Brzoza’s case is pending.
The cost of the investigation stirred a spirited discussion among members of the Town Board this week as they allowed the police to transfer $23,000 from other budget lines into their overtime account. Board member Robert Godlewski said about 97 percent of the overtime budget of $265,000 appeared to be spent with just under three months remaining in the year.
“This is a significant override of that budget line,” he said.
Manikas said the department will likely require about $55,000 to finish out the year. He said the department can cover the added cost by cutting its internal expenses — such as scheduled computer upgrades — and doesn’t require the town to supplement its $5.4 million budget.
The anticipated $320,00 in overtime would represent the most ever spend by the department on that line item. In 2009, Rotterdam Police spent $257,000 in overtime expenses, which represented an all-time high for the department.
Supervisor Harry Buffardi defended the expense associated with the investigation. He said overtime costs are something that fluctuate and can’t be predicted, as evidenced by the bizarre case that unfolded on East Claremont.
“We certainly couldn’t predict this, let a lone a drive-by bombing,” he said.