Few accept Defense Department weapons at the local level

Woodstock Police in 2012 by Dion Ogust

Woodstock Police in 2012 by Dion Ogust

What are the chances of the police in our area showing up at a mass gathering with armored cars and machine guns, displaying the sort of military might the nation’s been watching and discussing this week instead of community policing as we know it?

Excepting one case, not too likely, it turns out, unless the County Sheriff’s department or state police get called in. A survey of local police departments turned up a few Humvees for extreme weather circumstances, plenty of bicycles, and several requests for night vision apparatus.

City of Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti spoke about using an armored vehicle on the servicing of warrants “less than a half dozen times so far this year” and likened his community’s policing needs to that of downstate Yonkers. But beyond that, most said they wouldn’t accept military hand-me-downs if offered, and had used Homeland Security funds only sparingly, if at all, in recent years.


“I don’t want to create a military state,” said Saugerties Police Chief Joe Sinagra, a former Town of Ulster officer who found the cost of maintaining military hand-me-downs more expensive than expected, with the added onus that the Pentagon can always ask for their stuff back. “We’re here to support our community.”

Woodstock supervisor Jeremy Wilber added, the morning after he and his town board passed a unanimous resolution against ever using heavy arms locally (see accompanying article), that “the nature of our PD is what the nature of all PDs should be, to serve and protect, but not to invade.”

He added that the only equipment that grants have paid for in Woodstock were the state’s replacement of old bulletproof vests two or three years ago.

“We’ve had our bicycles for some time now and they certainly didn’t come from Homeland Security,” Wilber continued. “None of this is the sort of thing a community like ours need concern itself with.”

Similar no-military policies, at least on a departmental level, also exist in towns as dispersed as Shawangunk, Olive and Shandaken, we learned.

Sinagra said that Saugerties has gotten one thing through Homeland Security to date: a grant for a K9 officer and equipment, including a vehicle and training (which he added was going on this week up in Cooperstown). “It seemed important for us to have a way of sniffing out bombs given the number of mass gatherings we do here,” he explained, mentioning both the annual Garlic Festival coming up, as well as various events at the Woodstock ’94 site on Winston Farm that have happened or are planned.

Terry Soule, chief of Rosendale Police, talked about the much more prosaic items he’s put on his own departmental wish list.

“I plan on getting office equipment if I can, but we’re not looking for weapons,” he said. “I rely on the sheriff and state police for specialist units when we need them. That could be everyday support depending on how the day is going, but usually isn’t. But a Humvee makes sense, because out here in the country we do have some of the hardest access issues in an emergency. And if you can get it from the service, then that’s good for the budget. One thing we could also use would be night vision binoculars; they would be a help when you’re searching for someone in the dark, whether it’s a two year old or a ninety two year old.”

Chief Phil Mattracion of the Ellenville PD pointed out some of the reasoning for his and other local police forces’ lack of interest in things like machine guns, seen pointed at demonstrators in Missouri this past week. “Every Police Officer has to think carefully about not just what they’re shooting at, if they have to shoot, but also about what’s behind the target. In other words, we have to look at the forest behind the trees,” said the policeman who also serves on his local school board. “Ulster County has the Emergency Response Team from the Sheriff’s office; that’s a specialized unit, with the appropriate training, that comes in for infrequent things. Like we had a shooter seven years ago in the streets of Ellenville. Over the years we’ve called on them a couple of times.”

SWAT team in Kingston

Only in Kingston is there a SWAT team, or “Emergency services unit,” and armored vehicles bought from the military, all part of what Chief Tinti characterized as being, “No different than having a fire extinguisher in the corner. Like many good law enforcement officers, I like to say we pray for peace but prepare for war.”

Tinti talked about a 1974 Peacekeeper “Suburban-like vehicle” loaded down with armor and able to “do about 10 MPH at best,” as well as another newer vehicle that’s always on the streets to provide back-up, if needed, for his force’s 74 officers, including a new bicycle unit.

“We have to be ready for tactical response,” he said. “But we basically serve warrants.”

Finally, First Sergeant Allen Rowe, team commander of the Ulster County Emergency Response Team (UCERT) talked about how he saw matters from a wider perspective.

“This all requires a higher level of training for members of the team, so there’s a minimum two week basic SWAT school. Then we train twice a month during the year, plus there’s a one week training once a year, along with going to SWAT seminars. We also send the team to three day multi-training seminars,” he explained. “We’ve had eight deployments this year already. But there’s been no live firing.”

The UCERT, he further noted, is called on for “something that’s beyond normal patrol response, and something that requires our higher level of training.” Examples cited included hostage situations, and school or mall shooters.

Does the county have night vision equipment?

“Every team member is issued with night vision goggles,” Sgt. Rowe admitted. ++