Are police powers going too far in Delaware County?

By Matt Porter

October 3, 2013 Updated Oct 5, 2013 at 10:12 AM EDT

Delhi, NY (WBNG Binghamton) What makes a law enforcement official a law enforcement official is usually pretty clear, but the lines have been blurred in Delaware County.

For 20 years, the Delaware County Department of Social Services has been acting with the power of a special deputy sheriff.

But in early 2012, the sheriff's office noticed a problem with the arrangement as they prepared for accreditation.

The sheriff shared the management of the deputies with the commissioner of social services, William Moon.

Undersheriff Craig DuMond said that created a serious problem of oversight and liability.

"If we're going to have police officers acting on our authority, we needed to have operational and situational command over these individuals," DuMond said.

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services, which provides direction for the 58 local-level DSS offices, does not require or recommend giving investigators police powers.

And the sheriff's office says civil service laws preclude it.

"You either work for one or the other, you can't work for them both at the same time," DuMond said.

In most New York counties, DSS contracts with local law enforcement who post sworn officers in the department.

Town supervisors in the Public Safety Committee are calling for this change.

Town of Sidney supervisor Bob McCarthy said the current arrangement is unnecessary.

"I don't see any reason why social services should have their own police force," McCarthy said.

In December 2012, the sheriff offered DSS to move its investigators into the sheriff's office as full deputies.

Commissioner Moon refused and moved them to the Delaware District Attorney's Office.

As of Jan. 1, the four investigators were named provisional DA investigators, which continued to give them police powers while they could also continue to report to Moon.

Moon released a two-page statement outlining the long history and success of the program.

"As commissioner I have always felt the social service investigators have been a unique local creation that added value to the law enforcement potential in Delaware County," Moon said, "Not detracted from it or performed improper operations."

DSS Investigative Supervisor Jeff Bowie, one of the investigators under scrutiny, admitted there could be risks with the arrangement that spans two decades.

"I'm not saying there's no conflict, there's always a chance of conflict," Bowie said. "But for years, Moon has been the commissioner of social services, he's stayed out of that stuff."

Two investigators' police credentials have been questioned entirely: Mark Hamilton and Bowie.

Mark Hamilton had no record of being a deputy sheriff, and had not taken any courses at the police academy.

He resigned this summer due to health reasons.

The county personnel office said Bowie was never properly appointed from a civil service registry despite completing courses successfully at the police academy.

There is no record of him ever taking a civil service exam for the position.

Bowie's certification as a deputy sheriff was ended from the Division of Criminal Justice Services, which keeps the records.

Whether Bowie's entire service as a deputy sheriff will be revoked is pending documents being submitted by the Delaware County Sheriff's Office.

Bowie maintains he is an officer of the law.

He said the current questions regarding the status of DSS investigators are not his fault.

"I didn't create this confusion, I came into this confusion," Bowie said.

Delaware County District Attorney Richard D. Northrup said he has given Bowie and the three other DSS investigators provisional authority while they take a civil service exam for the position.

Three of the four investigators passed the exam in the first opportunity. Bowie didn't and must retake the exam.

The district attorney and county attorney declined to comment on the potential liability stemming from the questions of oversight or police status of the DSS investigators.

(This story is the first part of a two-part investigation)