Photos by Lauren Rock.
John Ford | Staff Writer
For Chautauqua’s veteran police chief Al Akin, a visit to the Institution from then-President Bill Clinton in 1996 certainly stands out as a highlight of his career.
“The size of the entourage, the excitement, the media buzzing all around,” he recalled. “It was a lot of work, but it was fun.”
But while the presidential visit stands out in his mind, Alan and his staff’s routine work is what often matters most to the Chautauqua community. On the Chautauqua force since 1978, Akin now oversees four other year-round, full-time police officers, three part-time officers and 10 seasonal bicycle officers.
“On a recent morning, for instance, we logged in three complaints from residents about cars improperly parked, one assist when the owner locked her keys in her car, one vehicle jump start, a couple of miscellaneous bicycle and animal complaints, and three assists to the fire department,” Akin said. “We work with the emergency medical technicians and the fire department on a wide range of issues. Most in the summer are related to health or personal injury matters.”
A Busy Off-Season
Things weren’t routine this winter, however. On Dec. 17, what seemed to be an isolated burglary was reported. Sgt. Tim Hammond, second in command on the Chautauqua force, took the call, which was from a Buffalo property owner visiting his house on the grounds and who had found evidence of a break-in and missing property. Chautauqua police launched an investigation, but found little useful evidence.
News of the burglary spread, though, and caretakers and homeowners in the area began checking their properties, while those who live elsewhere during the off-season asked friends and neighbors to check. Another burglary report was filed in mid-January, and the Chautauqua police responded by checking every door on the grounds for any sign of a break-in. They found evidence of seven more burglaries by Jan. 17, for a total of eight.
By Jan. 19, suspects had been identified, confronted and admitted their guilt. They are currently in jail in Mayville awaiting trial, which could come quite soon.
Officer Noel Guttman explained how it all happened.
“We got a tip on a name,” he said. “We ran it through the county computer database and got a hit. We were able to cross-reference with information provided by one of our Main Gate guards who takes names of visitors after 6 p.m.”
The Institution emailed residents to keep them up to date on developments. One resident reported a car that seemed out of place. The license plate matched.
“Once we identified the man, who was known to law enforcement and had an arrest record, we checked our databases for all known associates,” Guttman said. “Checking against descriptions of a female companion who had accompanied the suspect on the grounds, we were able to identify a woman believed to be an accomplice in the burglaries.”
By then, the county sheriff’s department was also involved in the investigation. Guttman knocked at the woman’s door in Mayville and confronted her with the evidence.
“She caved,” he recalled. “She offered a confession and began to cooperate almost immediately. This led us quickly to her accomplice and even to a ninth burgled house about which we had previously been unaware.”
On the advice of the county attorney, the suspects remained at large until evidence and statements were gathered from all the burglary victims, Guttman said. Gathering such information took some time, as some property owners lived in Florida, the Virgin Islands, and Canada, and there were several required written statements. Photos of recovered property were sent to owners for identification.
The authorities did not view the suspects as flight risks due to strong local ties.
When all the formalities were completed, a grand jury indictment was handed down in May, and Hammond and Guttman arrested suspects William F. Sloan, 22, of Sherman, and Stephanie Textor, 23, of Mayville, on seven and four counts of second degree burglary, respectively. A hearing in Mayville County Court is scheduled for this Monday.
As the burglary cases make their way through the legal system, there is another reminder of the mid-winter incidents on the grounds. The Chautauqua Police now have a flat screen TV display at the station, which shows live feeds from surveillance cameras installed this spring at all the entry gates and at the main dock behind the Sports Club. The cameras are also equipped to read license plates of any vehicle entering or leaving the grounds.
An Experienced Team
Akin, who holds an appointment as a Chautauqua County deputy sheriff, has unprecedented depth and breadth of experience and expertise on his team now.
“This group is the best-trained team we’ve ever had at Chautququa,” Akin said.
With Hammond and Guttman, both of Mayville, officers Dan Hafner, of Amherst, N.Y. and Billy Leone, of Jamestown, bring a total of 54 years of Chautauqua experience.
The officers and their three part-time colleagues have appointments as county special deputy sheriffs. And they have found their special niches on the force. Hafner, for instance, is a member of the county forensic investigative team, in addition to handling Internet activity for the police. Guttman is also a member of the county forensic investigative team, a grant writer, emergency medical technician and assistant Mayville fire chief. Tammy Yager, also an EMT with the fire department in Falconer where she lives, serves as the police station’s office manager.
As with his regular officers, Akin seeks quality and continuity in his summer bicycle patrolmen.
“They are all college graduates or students who are headed for professional careers,” he said. “We hope for, and usually get, six or seven each year who are returning,”
Akin has also taken advantage of his tenure and standing in local law enforcement to pick some of the best local police academy graduates. Another plus: Chautauqua County sheriff Joe Gerace worked for Akin a few years ago, as did former Dunkirk police chief Wade Weatherlow and John Palillo, former head of the Buffalo office of the U.S. Marshall’s Service.
“These connections make for smooth relations,” Akin said.
An officer came in. He had just answered a distress call and assisted an elderly man with a golf cart ride up the hill from the shuffleboard court. The man had forgotten his medications and was concerned he could not negotiate the climb to his house.
“Every year, every day actually, there’s something new,” Akin said.