New Paltz Police are dealing with what’s shaping up to be a trend in New Paltz after dark: alcohol-fueled aggression in the drinking district. During the August 19 Police Commission meeting, Chief Robert Lucchesi noted that “frequent and large fights” are becoming more commonplace. Last month, the chief recounted an altercation involving as many as 200 people which took place in June; nothing that large has been reported since, but fights are on the rise, as is aggression toward officers themselves.
Lucchesi wasn’t able to point to a specific cause, but called it a “confluence of events” that include the relaxing of rules on gathering at bars, tension about police in society generally, a lack of taxis available to help intoxicated people get away from the crowds and even bail reform. Officers have reported people shouting phrases such as, “I know you can’t jail me,” and Lucchesi believes that the catch-and-release system now in place emboldens some people. Alcohol is known to reduce inhibitions, but the chief did not comment on how the widespread use of this drug may relate to those other factors. Some advocates for local police reform have asserted that town police are used as a security detail by tavern owners to some extent.
Before the rules were changed last year and locking suspects up became more difficult, “People understood that the first strike could cost you a little more,” Lucchesi said. The chief cited the example of a sergeant who was treated in a hospital after an altercation; the suspect was released from custody before the sergeant was released from care.
All of this has officers carefully trying to “navigate these issues,” which the chief hasn’t seen to this extent over a career spanning decades. There’s even more aggression during traffic stops, and Lucchesi said, “I’m proud of these officers” for how they conduct themselves under such conditions. Police officers are asked to show more humanity in the form of compassion or empathy, the chief said, but displaying any anger leads to “repercussions.” Town officers have avoided being baited into becoming angry, earning that praise.