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.