Saugerties Police Department memories


The Saugerties Police Department of a half-century ago was much different from the department of today. It started as a constabulary with one constable, Charlie Riley (father of Bob Riley, later the police chief ). Charlie brought with him a station wagon, “the police vehicle.” Charlie divided his time between his constable’s duties and his responsibilities for cutting the grass at Cantine’s Field. He carried a lawnmower in the back of the station wagon.  
Back in 1972, when local policing was in its infancy and the town had about 16,000 residents, the town was protected by a part-time constabulary that locked its doors at 1 a.m. The phones were put on an answering machine, and the department closed until the morning. Phone calls after that hour were transferred to the State Police in Kingston.

In January 1973 the town board voted to create a full-time police department. It had seven full-time officers if you count Louis Barbaria, who had transferred over from the village police and was made sergeant on March 6 of that year, and approximately ten part-timers. The full-time crew consisted of chief Bob Riley, Barbaria, and patrolmen Clark Johnson, William (Bill) Johnson, Howard Ostrander, Peter Karashay and myself, George Heidcamp. The starting salary was around $5000 annually. Sound paltry? The officers also had to buy their own guns, gun belts and handcuffs. The town government did, however, supply its officers with their uniforms.

The police department was housed along with other municipal departments in the old town hall across the street from the old post office on Main Street in the village. The police office consisted of a single twelve-by-fourteen-foot room containing the chief’s desk, a patrolman’s desk, the dispatcher’s desk, filing cabinets, a booking area and the lunch “room.” There was absolutely no privacy in that tiny world. An inspection by the state Department of Corrections of how we secured our prisoners informed Saugerties it had the smallest police office in the State of New York.


In addition to the two old wooden desks, the department had one black rotary telephone and one old “ribbon” typewriter. The two patrol cars, a Rambler and a station wagon, were equipped with CB radios. I can still hear that voice in my head, “KTG-538.”
The officers worked alone to cover the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., and then eventually the 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. shifts. There was no union, no overtime, no air-conditioners in the vehicles, no double-time shifts, no detectives, no sergeants, no captains or lieutenants, no K-9, and no cell phones or computers. We shared the single typewriter, and almost everyone typed in solid caps.
That was another time. Everything has changed since then, including the crimes and the rules relating to handling them. Back then, most of the crimes were minor. When something big came along, you’d remember it forever.

Saugerties also had a village police to handle all matters within the village limits.
If an officer (all male at the time) stopped a vehicle and needed information on the plate number, he would have to call that number in to the dispatcher (all female), who would make a landline telephone call to the Albany State Police to get the information and then relay it back to the officer. The cumbersome process would easily take ten to fifteen minutes.

Several years into my tenure with the department, the police chief was considering assigning me to a detective position. The town board rejected the proposal because they felt I might want “my own typewriter” if I got the promotion.
The police department eventually became unionized in spite of strong opposition from the town board. Our first contract provided us benefits and more money.

By the mid-1980s into the early 1990s, more cars were purchased and additional manpower was hired. There were more promotions, more sergeants, newer and better equipment — radios, bullet-proof vests, new regulation weapons (as opposed to the “bring your own” style, something different for each man). We even got personal lockers.

A few years ago, the village department was dissolved and merged with the town police, adding more manpower. The larger police department got more dispatchers to handle additional complaints. There was more of the burdensome paperwork that goes along with a more professional department.

After having served 38 years with the Saugerties Police Department, I retired in 2010. I’ve seen a lot in that time. What had started as a small, informal outfit flourished and became the upstanding and professional police department that it is today.

The department has grown in a myriad of ways. In the 40 years ending in 2010, the population of Saugerties increased by roughly nine percent. Today’s police department has a chief, a captain and a lieutenant, as well as four detective positions, six sergeant positions, thirteen patrolman positions (including four vacancies at this time), thirteen part-time officers, three full-time and six part-time dispatchers , two K-9 officers, one SWAT officer (two of the original three left the department), an SRO officer assigned to the school, and an officer assigned to the Ulster County Family Child Advocacy Center (UCFCAC).
There are now 21 police vehicles. The starting salary for a patrolman is now $48,132.13 a year. The police budget is $2,608,632.
My, how times have changed.

There are 7 comments

  1. Bob Swingle

    Unfortunately, you missed my father Larry Swingle, who was the actual creator of the police force with Charlie, in this article, and you also left out Don Baker, who both were original members before Pete Karashay and yourself were even old enough. You came about decade or even more, after the force was created, you were not even part of the original force. The crew used their own cars with CB’s for a decade before you say it started, back in the very early Sixties, like ’61 or ’62. So, this story is not even half true. George you and Pete were still High Schoolers, or younger when the force started. How dare you leave my father out of this article. You were a kid when this police force was actually started, and you left out, the two men who actually started it with Charlie. Better check your facts before you publish bullcrap. My father was also town custodian for twenty five years, it was a voluntary position back then, which only paid fifty bucks a day for election day voting machines, which my Don Baker and my Dad did for over twenty years, until my Fathers death in Oct. 1976. Still an active police officer, running for Commissioner, he died only three weeks before the election. The Christmas lights that have hung in the village, were actually first hung by Bucky Squires, Don Baker, and Larry Swingle, my Dad, again for about two decades, for free, before the town took them over. While we are at it, let’s not forget what my Mother, Emily Swingle, did for Saugerties, who spent several years as the secretary for the principal of SHS, leaving when Dan Lee became Superintendent, too become the Deputy Town Clerk, for over twenty years under Town Clerk Peggy Dachenhausen. She was also Planning Board Secretary, Court Clerk for Dave Goble, as well as the Ulster County “alternate” Court Clerk, filling in for various courts for sick, vacationing, and absent Court Clerks. My Mom also was the Republican Club Secretary for decades also, but that did not stop Her from doing typing, mailing, and background secretarial work for many of the politicians, whether Republican or Democrat, completely nonpartisan, along with many businessmen and women locally, Mo Hinchey, a close family friend, being one of Her constant customers. So, George, you have twisted history, and caused controversy, which has been a constant for you, throughout your life.

  2. George Heidcamp

    Well Bob, I’m sorry you’re upset because I didn’t mention your dad’s name and perhaps I should have. However, I stand by the story, it’s true to the best of my recollection and if anyone’s name was left out, I apologize. Yes, there were part-time officers working prior to 1973, but the Police Department didn’t become FULL-TIME, ” 24/7,” untilJanuary 1973! I double-checked my facts with the town board minutes. That’s when I started full-time and everything I mentioned in my article is true. I stand by everything that I wrote; I lived it! In fact, I was there for 38-years. Again, I apologize if I’ve hurt your feelings.

  3. Bob Swingle

    Apology accepted, to a point… I remember well in the very early Seventies, when the department was sworn in officially. I still have the photo that I took of Don and my Dad, in their full dress blues, on our front lawn at 31 Appletree Drive, before they went, that day. These dress blues, along with all their equipment, they paid for, themselves, not the Town as of that time and juncture. My Dad was the mechanic who wired most of the “Constables” cars red grill lights, and hooking up sirens too the car driving wheel horn. He did this with a switch, down position, it was an ordinary car horn, up position, it became the siren when you pressed the horn. He put cb’s in most their cars and houses, putting up ten, twelve, maybe even twenty foot tall antenna’s on their houses, like our own home, as to insure a good reception for calls. In those early years, my Father owned “Larry’s Esso” on corner of Main and Market, next to the old Post Office. The very first squad car was bought from Johnson Ford, how do I know that, Don and my Father were the two officers who picked it up, and drove it, home to Saugerties, and I was with them in the back seat. We all went down in Bobby Riley’s vehicle, who dropped us off. I remember this so well, because, my Dad contacted the State Boy’s, and told them, that he was taking the cruiser home, and wanted to test it out, sirens, lights, and all, on Rte. 209, we hit 90 miles an hour, when my Father, backed her off. Then, while driving up 9W, the very first call came, the Hunter State Police, had an alarm go off, on a big home off of Platte Cove, up the mountain. The Troopers wanted a Saugerties car too come up the back road, as too catch any perp trying to escape down the cove. We never even stopped in town, but went right up the mountain. When we pulled into the driveway, the Troopers came running to the car shouting, things like, great job, you got him. At that, my Dad and Don played along for awhile leaving me locked in the back seat “cage”, before they admitted, that I was Officer Swingle’s son in the back seat. It ended up being a false alarm. One more thing, as I thought about it, I believe their were quite a few more Town of Saugerties Officers, before, and/or about the time you were inducted, that you left out, about twelve to twenty Officers. Men like, my Brother Skip, who was a policeman for a brief spell, I remember Gary Anders, who was the last officer too see my Dad alive, and revived him three times, before He succumbed too his massive heart attack, then there was, Tom Beckert, Terry DelMonte, Mike Flannigan, officers Debashire (sorry for the horrific spelling), Swinkel (similar name, again sorry if misspelt), and Sullivan, Ostrander, Zimmyarch, along with several others, they all were there early on, and should be credited also. You see, until 1973, you all were part timers, right from the beginning, I know much about it, because I watched it grow, I was quite close to several officers, Bobby Riley being the closest too me, I mean other than Don Baker, my Dad’s best friend and partner. Pete Karashay was always good to me, and close too our family, as was Terry DelMonte, as were several of the early “Cop’s”. I was always with my Dad, including at the old dump, on Sunday’s they used it for shooting range practice, my Dad, if you remember was the best marksmen of the whole department. I was always around all the Officers, or Constables, if you will, as that was my goal, as an adolescent, and young teen, of wanting too be one of Saugerties Finest, following my Dad’s footsteps, it never panned out. Thank you, for your apology, again and for your many years (38 wow) of service. And, I apologize, for my acerbic response, attacking, I should have stuck too the facts and not flare out at you personally, for that I am sorry. However, this is a sore spot for me, every time I hear about Charlie Riley starting the force, when in reality, it was the group of about ten (or more) Saugerties Men, who started it together, who picked the wiser, older patriarch Charlie to be their Chief, and first leader. You see, it took more than one man, and back then they called themselves “Riley’s Raiders”, as he was a very good man, who was instrumental, but he was not alone.

  4. Mike ONeil

    This is literally a pillow fight between two half literate nobody’s over a puff piece. Yawn. Sometimes it’s not even interesting in these comments.

  5. Suzy Q

    Mr. O’Neil- that was really very unkind and quite uncalled for. Period. End of story. No need for discussion.

    1. Dale Hawkins


      Though I like the way you walk and the way you talk , I suspect the above comment was perhaps a bit tongue in cheek.

  6. Suzy Q

    Tongue in cheek is somewhat funny, but calling people “two half literate nobody’s” is a bit rude, don’t you think? But, we are moving away from the premise of the article which was meant to be a nice walk down memory lane. Mr. Swingle was even kind enough to end his letter apologizing for his acerbic remark. This, I can live with and still have hope for humanity. Enjoy this beautiful day.

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