At a meeting of about two dozen Uptown residents and business owners at Dominick’s Café on Wall Street late this past Monday afternoon, Kingston police chief Egidio Tinti said that he had deployed foot patrols in the city’s Stockade district in response to complaints about aggressive panhandling and other disruptive behavior by people who are either homeless or residents of nearby boarding houses or supportive housing. But Tinti said there was only so much police could do without the public’s assistance.
“People have the right to walk around,” Tinti told the meeting. “When they cross the line into criminal behavior, that’s when we can step in, but only if we know about it.”
The meeting was organized by Mike Locasio, owner of the Ink Inc. tattoo parlor on Wall Street. Locasio said that he and other Uptown merchants had grown concerned over what appeared to be a spike in incidents involving apparently mentally ill individuals who frequent the benches and open spaces on Wall and North Front streets in the Stockade business district. Attendees at the community meeting described incidents ranging from aggressive panhandling to petty theft to harassment of patrons at outdoor cafes.
“It’s definitely gotten worse,” said Locasio. “I’ve been up here for 22 years and I’ve never seen it this bad.”
In response to the complaints, Tinti said, he had directed the KPD’s patrol division to conduct a walking patrol of the neighborhood three times daily. The walking post utilizes officers assigned to “community-oriented policing.”
On each day shift, Tinti explained, one officer is freed from responding to routine calls for service to carry out policing efforts like attending block parties, walking a foot post or speaking to community groups. But Tinti said, the community officer’s time, already limited, had now been expanded to include patrolling the newly opened Kingston rail-trail. Overall, Tinti said, the KPD is down to 71 officers from 80 a decade ago, making it more difficult to carry out more directed enforcement action.
“I can’t put an officer up here all the time,” Tinti said. “Financially, that’s just not feasible for us.”
Tinti and detective sergeant Brian Robertson urged business owners to call police to report harassment and other illegal activity. Creating an official record of complaints, Robertson said, would allow police to take action in cases where behavior crossed the line. For example, Robertson said, if a business owner had previously informed police that a person was not welcome in their establishment, the next time they showed up they could be arrested for trespassing.
Robertson said that the purpose of police intervention was not to incarcerate vulnerable people, but hopefully to connect them with services. “Our goal is to divert that arrest into something that can help them, not jail,” he said. “I don’t think anyone wants to see a person with a mental-health issue go to jail, but we need some teeth so we can get them that help.”