Police Chief Joseph Sinagra said that he would continue to resist calls for a dedicated drug enforcement unit within the department despite demands from some in the community for a stronger response to the area’s heroin epidemic. Instead, Sinagra said, he would continue the department’s focus on community oriented policing and partnerships with county and state police agencies in the year ahead.
“We don’t have a (heroin) epidemic here in Saugerties,” said Sinagra in response to calls to deploy more departmental resources against drug dealers. “A lot of it has to do with the people who live here, they’re not prone to be drug users and abusers.”
Sinagra’s comments came as year end crime statistics submitted to the Department of Criminal Justice Services showed that Saugerties cops made just one arrest for drug sales in 2015. Town police made another 65 arrests for drug possession last year. But Sinagra said that the numbers — which only tally arrests by the SPD — do not tell the whole story. Sinagra said that while the department does not dedicate officers full time to drug enforcement (and does not contribute manpower to the countywide inter agency Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team) they work closely with URGENT, the state police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team and the Kingston Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit go after local drug dealers.
Sinagra said that questions about the department’s handling of narcotics enforcement arose during last year’s town elections and led to calls for a dedicated town-level drug squad. But Sinagra said that forming a narcotics unit, or assigning staff to URGENT to follow drug cases throughout the county would detract from day to day operations and take uniformed officers off the streets where their presence serves as a deterrent to crime of all stripes.
“My priority as Chief is the day to day issues going on here in town and having uniformed officers on the street is a deterrent to those people selling drugs,” said Sinagra. “It’s a difficult balance at times to try to meet the community’s expectations.”
Sinagra said that the department is responsive to complaints about drug dealing in town. But the results may not always be immediate or obvious. When complaints are filed he said, officers first work to determine the veracity of the information. Then, subjects names are entered into a statewide database of ongoing drug investigations. That, Sinagra said, is to ensure that the department does not step into the middle of another agency’s ongoing case. Finally, Sinagra said, Saugerties police will reach out to local partners at CNET, URGENT or Kingston SIU. Saugerties police may turn the investigation over to the narcotics teams entirely, or work side by side to develop the case. Sinagra said that it can take months or longer to develop solid evidence on a drug dealer. Cops may also choose to keep a drug arrest quiet as they work to turn the dealer into an informant. Finally Sinagra said, agencies working with SPD may end up taking the official credit for the bust which is then logged in their arrest statistics rather than the Town’s.
“I don’t care who gets credit for that arrest,” said Sinagra. “As long as we’re working together to get the problem solved.”