Saugerties police chief outlines anti-bias policy

The Saugerties Police Department unveiled Policy 4023, entitled “Unbiased Policing,” on Sept. 22, effectively codifying the department’s standing policies regarding how the town police interact with undocumented immigrants.

After an Indivisible Saugerties meeting concerning on the topic back in June, four representatives of the group teamed up with Police Chief Joseph Sinagra to draft the policy in a series of brainstorming sessions held throughout the summer.

In a nexus of police and citizen aims, the six-page document both establishes the treatment of undocumented individuals by town police and the particulars of how town police cooperate with ICE agents.

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“Because the police chief believes in the policy, it wasn’t difficult to come to an agreement,” said Beth Murphy, a member of Indivisible Saugerties who helped draft the policy. Also involved in the process were IS members Barry Kerr and Bob Gelbach. (Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that the policy was written in consultation with “an undocumented immigrant.” In an email sent on Nov. 20, Murphy, who was identified as Beth Miller in the original story, said that was not the case. The Saugerties Times regrets the errors.)

“As the police chief, [the police department has] to integrate into the community, otherwise I wouldn’t know what the community needs are,” said Sinagra. “[I suggested to members of Indivisible Saugerties] ‘Why don’t we develop a policy called ‘unbiased policing’ and, through that policy, we address the concerns of our non-documented citizens here in our community.’ They thought that was great, but they had some concerns … [I determined that] I couldn’t speak to everyone [in Indivisible Saugerties], so they chose four representatives. We met several times over the course of the summer and we developed a policy. Prior to this, every officer would have had a different opinion of what to do — now, it’s clear-cut.”

According to the document, the purpose of the policy is “to emphasize [the Saugerties Police Department’s] commitment to unbiased, equitable treatment of all persons and to encourage crime reporting and cooperation in the investigation of criminal activity.” It prohibits “biased policing,” defined in the document as “discrimination in the performance of law enforcement duties or deliver of police services, based on personal prejudices or partiality of officers toward classes of individuals or persons based on individual demographics.

Officers are now formally forbidden from “consider[ing] individual demographics when performing law enforcement duties” and engaging “in law enforcement when it involves a family member, friend, relative or other personal with whom [the officer] has a personal relationship.” Should an officer not comply with these policies, they are subject to retraining on its measures.

It also lists those who are permitted to conduct immigration checks, namely only local officers deputized under Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, ICE agents and Customs and Border Patrol agents. While officers are permitted to call on the assistance of one of the above agents to verify the status of someone in custody that they believe has committed a criminal immigration offense, they are not permitted to hold that person in custody because that person’s immigration status is in question, or because ICE agents have requested that person be held. No member of the police department can restrict other officers from communicating with ICE, but ICE requests for additional assistance must go through the police chief.

“As the police chief, I would never say it’s appropriate to not cooperate with federal agents,” said Sinagra.

The document also reiterates federal law, which allows the chief to issue temporary immigration benefits with a U visa to undocumented victims and witnesses of crimes and T visas to undocumented victims of human trafficking. Sinagra added that in conjunction with the Workers Justice Force, a pro-immigrant activist group, town police have issued over 100 ID cards to undocumented residents.

“Undocumenteds all say the same thing — ‘we don’t want criminals here.’ They don’t come to America to continue live the lifestyle they had in the country they came from, where they were persecuted for religious reasons or persecuted because they weren’t in the wealthy economic strata of society,” said Sinagra. “With unbiased policing, we don’t ask about your residency status, we’ve never done that.”

Also borne of the brainstorming sessions was an aspect of the policy which states a formal waiver will be given to undocumented residents should ICE agents want to speak with them. While such interviews have always been voluntary, police officers would previously need to reach out to these individuals personally; now, a document that can be translated into different languages can be delivered, easing the process. Their rights in this situation are listed: should they accept the interview with an ICE agent, undocumented residents have the right to remain silent and have an attorney or immigration lawyer present.

“I’ve reviewed the policy on ‘unbiased policing’ and would have assumed that this has always been the policy of law enforcement,” said Councilman-elect Paul Andreassen.

George Heidcamp and the local Conservative Party had a different stance. “In their own words, the left-wing has an ‘ambitious agenda’ for our town and one has to wonder if this is just the beginning of that agenda,” said the Conservative Caucus in a statement after reviewing the policy.

“The consensus of the Executive Board to the “Unbiased Policing’ policy is a negative one. First of all, fair and equal treatment of all citizens is a Constitutional right … it does not need to be reiterated here, unless there are additional qualifying or modifying remarks included in order to further an agenda. The policy makes numerous references to ‘individual demographics’ (defined as ‘statistical data relating to the population and particular groups within it’) and reeks of other related words or phrases, such as ‘race,’ ‘ethnic background,’ ‘national origin,’ and ‘cultural group,’ to name but a few, and specifically addresses situations that relate to immigration. Is there an intention hidden within this policy?”

A request for comment on the policy from town Democrats was met with a reply stating the town committee is considering its stance. Town GOP Chairman Joe Roberti Jr. declined comment.

While Policy 4023 is publicly available, it is not online; those who would like to read it for themselves can contact Chief Sinagra at jsinagra@saugertiesny.gov.

There are 4 comments

  1. Anthony Kordich

    Let put this in to perspective If illegal alien = undocumented alien. then Illegal drug dealer = undocumented pharmacist. What gives you the right to pick and choose what laws to enforce. All laws should be upheld or it is anarchy

  2. Mark Hoffstatter

    The text states “they are not permitted to hold that person in custody because that person’s immigration status is in question, or because ICE agents have requested that person be held. ”

    The Saugerties Police should not be denying Federal Law Agents requests.

  3. Tove

    I’m grateful to Chief Sinagra for clarifying the police department’s position. The policy as described is appropriate and compassionate.

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