Opinion: Reinstate DSS warrant checks

cop SQWhen Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum would not end the controversial warrant check policy at Department of Social Services (DSS) buildings, Legislator Tracey Bartels (D-Gardiner) threatened to used the “power of the purse” to replace sheriff’s deputies assigned to security at the facility with private security guards. Her proposed resolution was not brought to a vote, but the threat of lay-offs prompted the sheriff  to suspend the policy.

This brazen political move compromised the security of the public and DSS employees.

With a backlog of outstanding warrants, the policy of warrant checks served to crack down on criminals, and successfully apprehended 30 persons with outstanding warrants in the two months it was in effect, five of which were from out of the area. A crack-cocaine dealer identified when attempting to enter the DSS building was apprehended and charged with two felonies: criminal possession of a controlled substance and intent to sell.


The New York Civil Liberties Union and National Center for Law and Economic Justice have called the practice “misguided and unlawful,” further asserting that it violates the fourth amendment, and discriminates against those seeking to access state and federally subsidized programs. But NYS Sheriff’s Association attorneys found no research to indicate that the practice is improper or illegal.

Complaints that such checks are intrusive do not hold water. Public opinion determines what is intrusive, and most people did not object to the warrant checks — just as few, if any, objected to the installation of surveillance cameras and license plate readers in Saugerties; the latter, capable of running license plate numbers through a national criminal database as we drive through the village. We certainly didn’t see the ACLU, Tracey Bartels or any of our own county legislators come stomping into Saugerties outraged that our fourth amendment rights were being violated when the cameras were installed on our streets. So how is asking for ID to check for an outstanding warrant any different?

According to Sheriff VanBlarcum, not one client complained about the policy. Our society requires that we show ID for a multitude of reasons, and this practice protects citizens, as does the policy of checking IDs for outstanding warrants. Warrant checks make the DSS work environment and the community safer by apprehending criminals and getting them off the streets. Keeping the community safe is the job of the police department, but how are they to accomplish this difficult task when politicians handcuff the police?

I asked the three Saugerties county legislators if they agreed with the policy of warrant checks. Mary Wawro and Dean Fabiano said yes, it was a good policy that protected the public. Chris Allen disagreed, because elderly people were waiting outside in long lines while identification was checked. I asked if tolerating a little cold weather is worth the trade-off of apprehending criminals, but Chris would not comment on the public safety issue, other than to say he wants the employees of DSS to be safe. But if criminals can potentially gain access to the building, how are employees safe?

VanBlarcum invited all legislators, including Tracey Bartels, to visit the DSS building to observe the process in person and interview clients and staff. According to the sheriff, only one legislator, Carl Belfiglio (R-Port Ewen), bothered to show up. Apparently, the opposition would rather ignorantly rail against an abstraction than take the time to view the process with their own eyes.

Saugerties Police Chief Joe Sinagra agreed with the sheriff’s policy. He said it was a public safety issue with no hidden agenda. “We need to be proactive, not reactive, and this policy would be proactive in helping Ulster County clean up outstanding warrants and get criminals off the streets,” he said.

It’s hard to understand how anyone can disagree. Sheriff VanBlarcum will need the support of the community if he is to reinstate this policy in an effort to make the residents safer. As a community we need to oppose legislators more interested in keeping criminals on our streets (and subsidizing them with public money) than keeping the law-abiding citizens of this county safe.

Saugerties residents are being taxed out of their homes, due in no small part to social service spending, the largest part of the county budget . Warrant checks and the further measure of drug-testing, though controversial, are common sense ways to ensure the recipients of public assistance are serious about seeking employment and/or providing proper childcare. Criminal activity, unresolved court proceedings, and using drugs detract from these activities.

Liberals portray such reforms as cold-hearted and unjust. But think about what we’d call their preferred system — in which public benefits are “rights” accorded to all unconditionally — if it were used as the rule of behavior for individuals among their friends and family. We have a word for a person who provides money to someone using drugs, neglecting their children or hiding from the police, no questions asked: “enabler.” Those who enable often do not lack for compassion, but we do not consider enabling a virtue because it’s understood such assistance only prolongs the problems of those who receive it. Talk about misguided.

Donna Greco’s column appears monthly.