Town officials voted to officially withdraw from the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement and Narcotics Team (URGENT) at the May 15 town board meeting, deciding instead to lend an officer from the Saugerties Police Department to a special domestic violence task force, the Family Violence Unit, within the county Department of Social Services.
The decision, according to Saugerties Police Chief Joe Sinagra and Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr., was fiscally driven; while the town suffers a bit of a financial loss by lending a cop to URGENT, the town will receive $75,000 from the county per year for the two years for its participation in this new program.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” said Costello. “Clearly, we like every other community, is struggling with the opioid problem and I think our enrollment in URGENT is a vital component to combating that trend. I hope that at some point we can participate again in a narco unit, but a narco unit is beyond the means of our police department to do alone. URGENT will play a valuable role. I’m hopeful that in the future we can be back in, but for now our budget can’t support that and we’re just going to have to work closely and share leads with URGENT.”
Costello said Saugerties had been affiliated with URGENT for over two years.
Officer Ryan Hamill will be shifted from URGENT to the new program. His salary of $62,000 per year, leaving additional funds left over from the county’s allotment. Hamill will be assigned to cases concerning domestic violence and sexual violence against children throughout the county, but Sinagra said that the officer could be assigned to just cover cases in Saugerties if his presence is needed in the community.
“We have a very serious domestic violence issue in Saugerties that we’ve been trying to address for years,” said Sinagra. “We’ve been trying every avenue we can to combat and bring about awareness about domestic violence and that victims can get help. We have both male victims and female victims; we have children that are victims of domestic violence — domestic violence doesn’t discriminate. So we want to take every measure we can in order to address the issues.”
County Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael Iapoce, who attended the May 15 town board meeting where the decision was made, said Hamill would work with a team of four other area officers and respond to an estimated 450 cases per year. According to town- and village-wide police statistics distributed by Sinagra at the meeting, officers responded to about 300 domestic violence last year and the year before that. In 2012, only 50 such instances took place. Sinagra cited that Saugerties has the second-highest rate of reported domestic violence in the county.
“[My job is] to get the biggest bang for our buck for our taxpayer,” said the chief. “If I can get a reimbursement for the officer’s time in one program or the other, that’s the responsible thing to do.”