Members of the New Paltz Town Board have questions they’d like answered about the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team (URGENT) before renewing a contract under which a town officer is assigned to work with the task force several days a week. County sheriff Paul Van Blarcum and Assistant District Attorney William Weishaupt joined town Police Chief Joseph Snyder last week to address those concerns.
Supervisor Neil Bettez said that he understood the value of cross-departmental collaboration and communication, particularly during the current opioid crisis, but given the ongoing budget constraints in the town he wanted to make sure he grasped the value of the program to town residents. Snyder said that when URGENT presence is needed, it is brought to New Paltz; he also pointed out that this is not based on participation, but need.
Van Blarcum’s comments largely restated the same theme: there has been participation by a New Paltz officer every year since the program was established in 2007, and in his opinion the only reason to even consider withdrawing that support is political. Some county legislators tried unsuccessfully to modify the overall contract, specifically to end the use of minors as informants and in undercover operations, but fell short of that goal.
Weishaupt said simply, “It’s not an issue.” Only rarely is there even a request to use a minor, he said; just once in his forty years in law enforcement, and never in URGENT in the year or more he’d been involved in the program.
Deputy Supervisor Dan Torres pressed for details about collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. An ICE agent works with URGENT, and Weishaupt said that it’s a valuable resource since they are specialists in large criminal investigations and human trafficking. In his experience, he observed, no police officer ever asked a suspect about their immigration status, although he also said, “You don’t want to know my views on immigration.” Torres’ question about whether the town’s sanctuary law would be honored was never clearly answered.
Town officials will decide on the fate of this collaboration at a future meeting. They were advised previously by Snyder that, despite the contract only being for one year, the arrangement would not expire unless they voted to terminate it.