By Timothy Knight
SCHOHARIE - The Schoharie County Sheriff's Department Road Patrol is tasked with a herculean charge on a daily basis: providing protection and security to over thirty thousand residents spread across sixteen towns and six villages.
Although not the only police force in the county - the Villages of Cobleskill and Schoharie maintain full time and part time departments while the State Police have a station in Cobleskill - the Sheriff's Department is often seen as the face of county law enforcement.
Recently, The Schoharie News took part in a five hour road patrol with Deputy Sheriff Bruce Baker, where I spent the day in the life of Schoharie County's finest.
2:30 PM - I meet with Deputy Sheriff Bruce Baker (pictured left) at the Public Safety Facility in Schoharie, where we tour the hollowed remnants of the one-time administrative offices and jail on the first floor of the facility, which was devastated by Hurricane Irene.
Now situated on the second floor of the facility, which had previously housed the Emergency Management Office, the Sheriff's Department is currently operating in a fraction of the space they had before Irene's wrath left their offices unusable.
Space being the key word, as before the hurricane there were enough desks for every road patrol officer, sergeant, staff, and separate departments within the office to operate comfortably in. Now, there are only a handful of desks for everyone to work at.
Down below in the parking lot, the department's remaining Corrections Officers are still using a FEMA trailer that was not meant for 24/7 occupation.
Equipped with neither a functioning kitchen nor restroom, the officers are operating in conditions that can be best described as primitive while awaiting the construction of a new Public Safety Facility.
3:00 PM - Deputy Baker is explaining to another officer how to file warrants into the system while we wait for the shift change. The Deputy cannot leave for patrol until he has obtained a taser for his protection. After shifts change, we depart the office.
Explaining that he "wanted to be a cop from high school," Deputy Baker joined the Schoharie County Sheriff's Office first as a part time E-911 Dispatcher in 1999 after moving to the county from Long Island. Five years later in January of 2004, he joined the road patrol.
In addition to his road patrol duties, which place him on the road for upwards to forty hours per week, Baker has added additional responsibilities through training, such as becoming a field training officer, master instructor, evidence technician, and warrant control officer.
4:02 PM - After an hour on the road, Deputy Baker receives his first call to assist Deputy Prall and emergency services in a medical situation in West Fulton.
Short staffed since the department lost two officers due to retirement and transfer, deputies have managed to maintain a cost effective and a noteworthy amount of coverage for local residents despite the financial stumbling blocks the county has faced since August, 2011.
Patrolling from five in the morning until one at night, coverage has actually increased by four hours per day since the flood, even though the number of bodies on duty has decreased.
However, despite pointing out the department's successes in light of difficult obstacles, Baker said that deputies will maintain their current level of coverage, but warned "we can't increase that level of productivity," because they simply just do not have the resources.
4:50 PM - Leaving West Fulton, Deputy Baker receives his second call of the night to assist at a car accident in the Town of Carlisle.
With the department set to add a new deputy in the next week, Baker looked toward the future with optimism.
Observing that the department is only two certifications from being able to host its own police academy, the deputy praised his superiors advocacy for proactive training, which afforded him the opportunity to pursue and progress in his role as a evidence technician.
Still, cautioning that "crime isn't going to go away," Deputy Baker commented offhandedly that the department is "four more uniformed patrols away from 24 hour coverage" in the county, but for now their priority is to maintain the level of service residents have come to expect.
5:03 PM - Diverted from the car accident after it was secured, Deputy Baker is called to a camp site in the Town of Middleburgh, where he assists a camper in unlocking his automobile after he had accidentally locked himself out.
Unlike the hostility that many police officers face nationwide, Baker observed "we have a very positive relationship with our community," even going so far as to state, "we know most of the people we deal with."
Although admitting that he thinks about all the incidents that have occurred nationwide since last year, the deputy recounted how he use to wear the East Hampton Police uniform of his father's friend when he was a child, adding about being a deputy, "it's all I ever wanted to be."
7:20 PM - Parting ways at the Public Safety Facility almost five hours after first meeting for the ride along, I wish the deputy a safe second half to his shift. Climbing behind the wheel of my car, I realize that I know what my night will entail as I travel home, but as he drives off to continue his patrol, Deputy Baker is unaware of what the night will send his way, which is what makes him, and every other man and woman who wears the Sheriff's badge in Schoharie County: our defenders in the night, our protectors in the day, and our heroes all the time.