SUNY New Paltz University police union members caused a stir last week by calling for the ouster of chief David Dugatkin as head of the department. The unusually public move included a rolling billboard that cited statistics about campus crime and questioned his leadership.
The billboard, which was on a truck parked at several campus locations, referenced a 50% rise in reported rapes, as well as a higher number of drug-related arrests. It was timed to be visible during admissions tours.
College administrators soon thereafter released a statement making clear that Dugatkin is not on the chopping block. It read in part, “These scare tactics and misinformation campaign by the PBA is specifically designed to pressure the college [administrators] into making a leadership change that we have no intention of making. Indeed, we support the chief wholeheartedly and commend him for implementing many best practices in college policing during his time here.” University spokesperson Melissa Kaczmarek declined to arrange an interview with Dugatkin, advising that the statement would be the only official comment.
That statement was extremely critical of the tactic, which according to state union officials is unrelated to contract negotiations. “We refute the unfounded claim by the statewide PBA that our campus is not safe. The PBA has misrepresented the facts. Our drug arrests actually have dropped 25% since 2013 and our reports of rape have been four to six a year for the past three years…. It should be noted that the statewide PBA previously celebrated and publicized the number of 2013 drug arrests at New Paltz during a campus ceremony in 2015.”
According to PBA official Scott Marciszewski, an officer in Buffalo, they pulled those statistics from the same crime reports campus officials used, although they apparently have drawn different conclusions from them. It’s true that reported rapes have ranged from four to six, but it’s also true that the most recent number — six — is a 50% increase over four. “We’re disappointed with the response, especially when it comes to rapes,” Marciszewski said. “In our opinion, one is too many.”
Instead, Marciszewski claims that the underlying issue is low morale due to Dugatkin’s leadership style, which in Marciszewski’s estimation can only lead to more crime. He said that after receiving reports of a high number of officers requesting transfers — eleven officers have left since Dugatkin became chief, including some who now commute over an hour to work — union officials “reached out in a good-faith effort” to resolve those concerns. The result, according to Marciszewski, was punitive.
“There were interrogations of employees, demotions of probationary officers and employees suspended,” Marciszewski said. While those are all within the chief’s purview, “We found the timing concerning.”
An anonymous letter received at the New Paltz Times office lays out more specifics. Dugatkin served 21 years with the town police, but only in the leadership role of detective sergeant for the last year, and then only supervising the other detective. According to that letter, Dugatkin “used his contacts with the college and [former chief] Ray Bryant to use this one year of ‘experience’ … to qualify him to take the University Police over when Bryant retired. It was a generally accepted and well-known conclusion that [he] would be taking over leadership . . . long before the selection board announced their decision” to hire him in 2011.
When concerns about “his many shortfalls and the destruction of the department” by means of his lack of experience and poor temperament were broached, they were ignored by Dugatkin and met with “disdain and derision” by then-vice president David Rooney, according to the anonymous letter, even as the environment became “hostile and toxic” to those working under the chief. When Wayne Brumfield replaced Rooney, he arranged for a confidential survey to be completed by officers, but once the results were in, claimed that officers colluded to defame Dugatkin, and therefore denied that the results had legitimacy. A letter from Brumfield to PBA executive director Daniel DeFedericis confirms Brumfield’s position; in it he writes that the alleged compromising of the survey “flies in the face of what professionalism and ethical behavior encompasses.”
The retribution Marciszewski refers to came as a result of those confidential responses being provided to the chief, so the letter writer claims. The chief gathered evidence of “goofing off” by means of hidden cameras installed specifically to allow him to “spy on officers.”
Had Dugatkin been made available for comment, he would have been shown the anonymous letter and been provided the opportunity to respond to the allegations and evidence therein.
Since the truck made its rounds on campus, union official Marciszewski has been advised that an outside consultant has been retained; he was hopeful that said consultant would be looking into some of the allegations, and that this was an indication that college officials are reconsidering their hard-line stance.
However, college spokesperson Kaczmarek advised that this consultant was part of a longer-term plan unrelated to the recent job action. “One of Chief David Dugatkin’s longtime goals has been to bring in an outside consultant versed in college policing to work with his department. Student Affairs began the search process to hire a consultant in January 2017. A consultant was selected in March and will conduct a full departmental evaluation to provide feedback on best practices and ways to improve over a three-day period in mid-April. We value the opportunity to take advantage of such outside expertise in an effort to continue the College’s strong record of campus safety that allows our students to pursue their primary educational goals.”
What comes next is unclear, but Marciszewski says that the tension is quite high in the UPD. According to the anonymous letter, four of the remaining nine officers are also trying to transfer somewhere else, even if it means driving an hour to work each day.
Note: An earlier version of this story included a mistake in the headline: Dukatkin is the chief of the SUNY University Police, not the town police.