The Town Board renewed Woodstock’s participation in a countywide drug task force, but only after serious discussion about protecting child informants and addressing asset forfeiture.
The town police department participates in URGENT, the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team, a task force including police personnel from the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office and the towns of Lloyd, New Paltz, Marlborough, Plattekill, Saugerties, Shandaken and Woodstock and the village of Ellenville. The county District Attorney’s Office and Probation Department, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Marshals are also participants.
Councilman Jay Wenk had serious reservations because it was brought to his attention that children are allowed to divulge the identity of criminal suspects “without the OK of their parents.” Said Wenk, “This is absolutely awful.” He went on to explain he had worked for organizations in the 1960s whose goal it was to stem drug addiction. “I have seen and dealt with young people who have been caught in the horror of being junkies,” Wenk said. “Whoever blows the whistle is putting themselves in danger.” That danger comes both from retribution and by keeping them involved in the same lifestyle that feeds the addiction, he said.
Councilman Richard Heppner echoed that concern, but said he reviewed the URGENT participation documents and it appeared parental consent is required.
Supervisor Bill McKenna stepped out to obtain the documents to clear up any confusion. Upon returning, he noted there are several criteria that must be met to use a child informant, such as extreme circumstances, and the agreement requires consent of both parent and child. “This is not the police running rogue and using kids as snitches,” McKenna said.
Councilman Lorin Rose said he spoke with some town police officers who were thrilled to have the extra manpower, particularly in a recent case where they seized numerous guns and a large quantity of drugs from a home in town. “We’re in a different world now,” Rose said.
Councilwoman Laura Ricci said drugs “steal children’s lives,” and while things might not be perfect with URGENT, “it’s better to have it than not have it.”
Town Clerk Jackie Earley, whose family has been affected by the drug epidemic, said she is supportive of URGENT. Earley said she’s never heard of a child being abused as part of the program and getting rid of it “allows bad people to give drugs to our youth.”
Resident Felicia Kacsik said the town should not renew the URGENT agreement because of “the wholesale robbery of $4 billion by law enforcement without due process” through a process called asset forfeiture. Police departments across the country have made national news in cases where suspects are fighting to have property returned even after they are found not guilty or their case is dismissed.
McKenna suggested he can communicate to the Sheriff’s Office that the town takes concerns about child informants and asset forfeiture seriously.
McKenna, Ricci, Heppner and Rose voted in favor of renewing the agreement, while Wenk abstained. In explaining his abstention, Wenk said he has been a strong supporter of URGENT in the past, but has concerns.