Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra said this week that his department would join the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team. Sinagra cited changes in oversight of the task force and a worsening opioid crisis for the decision to assign one Saugerties cop to the task force full-time and a second on a part-time basis.
URGENT was formed in 2007 by Ulster County Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum. The team uses personnel from the sheriff’s office, eight local police departments and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations to target drug trafficking, prostitution and gang activity countywide.
Sinagra said he had decided to assign officers to the task force after the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office assumed a leadership role in the team. Previously, Sinagra said, he had been concerned about exposing the town to legal liability based on the actions of a unit outside of his chain of command.
“The problem with a task force is that you have to be very careful where the authority lies,” said Sinagra, who early in his career worked on a drug task force run by then-Orange County district attorney Frank Phillips. “If you have your people conducting an investigation, you want to be sure that that investigation is being conducted to the letter of the law.”
Sinagra said that the move was also prompted by citizens’ concerns that the department was not doing enough to combat a spiraling heroin epidemic. Sinagra said that joining URGENT was one of a number of anti-drug initiatives he planned to roll out in the coming year.
“We’re lucky in Saugerties in that we haven’t been infiltrated by drug traffickers to the same level as some Ulster County communities,” said Sinagra. “We want to make sure that continues.”