Saugerties gets new police chief

(Left to right) Former Police Chief Louis Barbaria, Detective Travis Winchell, Detective Sergeant Kenneth Swart and new Police Chief Joe Sinagra (photo by David Gordon)

Joseph Sinagra took the oath of office as Saugerties Police Chief on Friday, April 27 in a courtroom packed with well-wishers, many of them members of area police forces and municipal officials.

“One of the things I said when I took the job as chief here is that I would find somebody who could take my place, and I think I fulfilled that obligation,” said outgoing Police Chief Louis Barbaria at the swearing in ceremony for Sinagra. Also sworn in on Friday were Detective-Sergeant Kenneth Swart and Detective Travis Winchell, both filling new positions.

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The crowd, which filled the courtroom to overflowing, included representatives of the State Police, Environmental Conservation Police, Ulster County, the village and town of Saugerties among others.

As Supervisor Kelly Myers reflected on the outgoing chief’s achievements, she recalled that in 2008, the department was going through a rough period. Barbaria “immediately built a command structure and set in place policies that improved services to our community.” Barbaria brought the village and town police departments together, with a full merger last year, Myers noted. Now, “the changing of the guard is upon us; the Town Board unanimously and enthusiastically appointed Deputy Chief Sinagra to fulfill the office of chief of police,” she said. Myers was especially impressed, in going over Sinagra’s resume, “that he describes his work as a vocation.”

Myers said she first met Sinagra when they were both in high school. “We took a CPR class together, and at that time I met Joe and his brother, Phil, and you could tell they were called to service.”

Sinagra is qualified as an accreditation officer – that is, he examines other police departments to determine whether they are qualified for certification. While he is not allowed to certify his own department, his experience will help Saugerties achieve accreditation, which is a recognition of excellence. “We’re moving into a new era of professionalism,” Myers said.

Councilman Fred Costello recalled that at the time Barbaria was hired, the department was being run by two sergeants. And, while they were doing a good job, “any organization needs one leader,” he said. It was a time of crisis, and Barbaria “restored leadership in our department, he restored our professionalism and our credibility to the community.” The subsequent merger of the village and town police departments would not have been possible without his leadership, Costello said. “His experience as a village officer and a town officer made him unique in his ability to bring our two departments together. Frankly, he reinvented out police department.”

Barbaria brought Sinagra to the Town Board’s attention and recommended him as his successor, Costello said, and “I believe he made an outstanding choice.” Costello said. “We are thrilled to have you, and we thank you for being here,”

The number of members of other county and state police agencies who turned out is an example of how united law enforcement personnel are in Ulster County, Sinagra said. “We’re not separate agencies; we’re one agency.”

This is demonstrated by the level of cooperation between agencies following the recent robbery of the Ulster Savings Bank. “This is not about one person, or one police chief, it’s about the community of law enforcement,” he said.

Sinagra also praised the entire staff at the police department, including dispatchers and civilian employees, saying “it takes a staff of people to get a job done, and that’s what I want to bring to the table – that we work together collectively.”

Sinagra offered a special thanks to Lieutenant Steve Filak, his second in command, telling the crowd that “we do this together as a team. We’re going to work together with the people of this agency to strive, to move forward and to bring this department to the next level.”

Following the ceremony, Barbaria described the day as “bittersweet. I’m looking forward to retirement, but I started my career here, and my heart will always be here. To see the consolidation – it’s like my baby and I take ownership of it. That’s why it was so important to be sure there was a good team in place to take over.”

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