Mary Ritayik sworn in as New Paltz University Police chief

Mary Ritayik (second from right) amongst her colleagues at her swearing-in ceremony. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

The SUNY New Paltz University Police Department (UPD) has a new chief, formally installed last Friday in a swearing-in ceremony at the College Terrace on the SUNY campus. Her appointment is a milestone: Mary E. Ritayik is the first woman ever to hold the post in the UPD’s 50-year history, and one of only three women holding the rank of chief in the entire SUNY system.

Ritayik is a career law enforcement professional who holds a degree in Sociology with a concentration in Criminology from SUNY Cortland, later earning the top grade as a graduate of the Westchester County Police Academy. She started her university police career in 1998 at SUNY Purchase, transferred to New Paltz in 2000, was promoted to investigator in 2003, and assumed the newly created role of deputy chief in 2013. She has served as interim chief since the resignation in May 2018 of former chief David Dugatkin.

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Stephanie Blaisdell, vice president for Student Affairs at SUNY New Paltz, administered the oath of office to Ritayik, presenting her with her chief’s badge and adding a fourth star to her epaulets. “Since May, Mary has been acting as both chief and deputy chief, which is no small task,” Blaisdell said. “I am confident that she will continue to demonstrate the exceptional leadership that she has demonstrated over the past 20 years.”

Chief Ritayik comes from a law enforcement family; her husband also serves on the UPD, and her father had a career as a New York State parole officer. She has two children, Samantha, 10, and John, 7; the family lives in Kerhonkson. Before posing for photos with her family and with various dignitaries present for the occasion, the new chief expressed her thanks to many who had supported her in her career, including all three former UPD chiefs who were present for the occasion: Dugatkin, “for taking us into the 21st century” by spearheading the agency’s recent certification from the Department of Criminal Justice Services; Rich Barnhart, “for rescuing me from Purchase”; and Ray Bryant, “for encouraging me to aspire to higher career goals.”

According to Ritayik, Bryant once told her, “I could see you as chief one day,” to which she had responded, “When Hell freezes over” — a recollection that earned an appreciative laugh from the assembled crowd on a bitterly cold January day.

Ritayik also thanked the SUNY administration, whose representatives at the event included New York State UPD commissioner Paul Berger and deputy commissioner Frank Lawrence, along with Blaisdell and SUNY New Paltz president Donald Christian. In his prepared remarks, Christian praised the new chief’s “calm, cool demeanor,” which he said would help her department “maintain the difficult balance between being prepared for the worst and always being expected to perform at their best.” He later said that he viewed Ritayik’s promotion to chief as an “excellent outcome.” Dugatkin’s resignation had followed a tumultuous relationship with some of the UPD force. “The transition in the many months Mary was deputy chief has been very smooth,” Christian reported. “She has had good support from the officers. They seem to be working well together.”

Among the many municipal and county officials present for the occasion was New Paltz town supervisor Neil Bettez, who also had praise for Ritayik’s past performance when she was filling in for Dugatkin at “town and gown” events. “I was very impressed with her,” said Bettez. “I was hoping that SUNY made the right decision.”

For Lilah Bunce, who has been an officer with the UPD for six years, Ritayik’s elevation to the top department post is good news on multiple levels. “There’s nothing more inspiring than seeing a woman come up through the ranks to be chief,” Bunce said. “She’s an amazing leader: someone you can reach out to and look up to… She makes things clear, which is nice to have.” Asked whether having a woman become chief has sparked similar ambitions of her own, the officer replied, “I still have many years to go, but this gives me something to reach towards.”

While downplaying any expectations that the UPD might operate under any different priorities under female leadership, Chief Ritayik acknowledged that some women students do feel more comfortable communicating with female officers, who currently constitute 25 percent of the UPD force on the New Paltz campus. She is also conscious of her heightened responsibilities as a role model: “It feels good that I’ve reached this pinnacle in my career, but also that I broke a glass ceiling,” she said. “The big thing is pulling up those other women in law enforcement. It’s really important to be a mentor to other women.”

Ritayik’s promotion now leaves a gap in the position of deputy chief, which she confirmed would soon be filled — possibly from outside the department, depending on who applies. “I will appoint a new deputy. The search should take a few months. It’s still in its early stages.”

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