The town supervisor, chief of police and members of the Saugerties Police Department carpooled to the state capital last week for the state Department of Criminal Justice Services’ Dec. 12 re-accreditation ceremony. Since the department’s initial accreditation in 2013, officers have spent the last five-year period meticulously following 110 standards, which included record-keeping policies, establishing an organizational system for stored evidence, fiscal management and personnel practices.
Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr., Police Chief Joseph Sinagra, Detective Paul Gambino, Sergeant Derek Fallon and Captain Steve Filak joined an audience of uniformed police officers from departments throughout the state at the ceremony.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be here today to celebrate this moment,” said Costello. “When we did it the first time it was brand new and really exciting and everybody participated in it. I think, in some ways, staying accredited is more of a dedication. I can’t say enough good things about the folks that are with me today. … It was certainly a cultural shift. It provides a better product for our community. The service that the department gives to our residents is really above and beyond. I’m happy to be here and be a part of this.”
Sinagra said adhering to the standards was a “daily effort” for members of the police department. Everyone in the department — dispatchers, detectives, beat cops and administrators alike — had to adjust their daily practices so that the department would comply. Five years of the department’s records, along with the department’s evidence storage room which was reorganized using barcodes to meet standards, were reviewed by the DCJS’ Accreditation Council, consisting of 17 members appointed by the governor.
“Cops are like old dogs — we don’t like change and we don’t like things to stay the same. We’re in constant conflict with ourselves,” said Sinagra of the learning curve. “Every day there was more and more buy-in — [the standards] help[ed] us become better police officers. It’s kind of a bunch of checks and balances.”
Even in the days following last week’s ceremony, Sinagra said small changes were made to the standards that needed to be written into department policy and taught to all members of the department. He cited vehicle checks, mandated for each officer before buckling into their squad cars, as one example. Although the added steps can seem tedious, Sinagra said that they all have an ultimate purpose.
“Prior to the beginning of the officer’s shift, the officer does a complete inspection of the inside and outside of the patrol vehicle,” said Sinagra. “What you’re establishing is that there’s no contraband left in the vehicle. During my 31 years as a police officer, I’ve found a gun in the back seat of the vehicle, I’ve found a knife and I’ve found cocaine. Unless you can establish that you checked those areas for contraband, you can’t establish that the last prisoner in the car [was the owner of the contraband].”
“I’ve been doing this for 11 years, and the Saugerties Town Police Department is one of the best agencies I’ve assessed,” said James LaFarr, who works for the Warren County Sheriff’s Department and led the assessment of the department’s records. “Their morale is high, from the chief down to the civilian employees. They’re a credit to the town that they serve.”
Other recognized departments include the Montgomery Police Department and SUNY Brockport’s campus police. Other reaccredited agencies include Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office, the Rome City Police Department, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office, and the Watertown City Police Department. Attending officers went for a tour of the capital building and a nice lunch on the town supervisor after receiving their honors.