LOWVILLE – Despite a major but solvable flaw in the first season of a private security presence on Lewis County ATV trails, Gold Star Security, Watertown, will likely be asked to continue incorporating lessons learned from the first four months.
In June, the Lewis County Board of Legislators authorized a contract not to exceed $100,000 for “safety, security and surveillance services” on county trails during the busy all-terrain vehicle season.
The company was hired to have four state-certified security guards per shift, along with at least two ATVs for their use, at the busiest times at targeted locations in the trail system.
“I think it went well. We have heard positive reports,” County Board Chair Lawrence L. Dollhoff said. “One thing I’m worried about is that the vehicles have to be identified by Gold Star security and they’re wearing uniforms, and then we find out nothing’s happening.”
Mr. Dollhoff and Jackie L. Mahoney, director of forestry, recreation and parks, said without any visible identification, only trail riders who know safety team members or expect to see them on the trail know their identification. However, this was not clear to most visitors.
Gold Star was contractually obligated to provide county guards with pre-approved uniforms.
Although the provision of ATVs clearly marked as Gold Star Security was hinted at during several county meetings, it was not a requirement included in the contract.
The company is unlikely to be docked for some of its compensation as the guards are not in uniform.
“Normally we will not confiscate. We will likely address those (issues) if and when we resume service,” County Attorney Joan E. McNichol said.
As certified security guards, not law enforcement officers, patrols were not allowed to pull riders over or issue tickets or citations for breaking trail rules or county or state laws. They were expected to inform riders of trail, county and state regulations and dial 911 for anything serious that required law enforcement, just like the sheriff’s office’s recreational patrol.
Mrs. Mahoney said there was only one incident — an accident — in which Gold Star guards called 911.
In general, she and Mr. Dolhoff agree that there is a good level of communication between recreation patrol officers — both of whom are sheriff’s deputies — and the Gold Star Guard, as well as the county in general.
“Eric (Schmidt) did a wonderful job as head of the rec department this year. He and Lee (Todeschini) communicated well, consistently worked on the trails and checked in every week or so. He was great at reporting,” Mrs Mahoney said.
This Mr. Schmidt’s first year major was REC patrolling.
Although the Gold Star guards had fulfilled their weekly obligation to file reports with Mrs. Mahoney, she said the reports contained only basic information such as times and locations. One of the improvements going forward will be a clear list of reporting data expected from guards, including details of interactions
According to Mr. Dollholf, the landowner advocacy side of Gold Star’s mission appears to be going well. He said he hasn’t heard from any landowners during the ATV season this year.
“Usually I only hear bad things,” he said.
Because officers on rec patrol are also school resource officers and school districts are now paying 100% of officers’ salaries when school is in session to keep them on campus, even during summer school, there will be very little time for officers to patrol. Trails starting in snowmobile season. Hence the presence of security guards becomes more important, Shri. According to Dollhoff.
“It’s definitely not law enforcement — that’s final — but it’s as close as we can get,” Mr. Dollhoff said. “Having said that, at least for the snowmobile season there are other law enforcement agencies … the state (department) of Parks and Recreation, the DEC and the state police … even if they’re at intersections.”
Mr. Dollhoff said that while there are limits to what they can do, private security “is an advocate for solving landowner trespass issues … and just being there slows people down.”
The 2023 tentative budget includes $200,000 for Gold Star’s services during snowmobile and ATV seasons.
Sheriff Michael P. Carpinelli and Mr. Schmidt could not be reached for comment.