New Paltz Police Chief Robert Lucchesi told members of the Town’s Police Commission last week about another incident in which a couple of officers were faced with an agitated late-night crowd, leading to one council member to suggest that maybe it’s time to look at forcing bar owners to lock the doors a couple of hours earlier than the current 4 a.m. standard.
According to Lucchesi, a patron of one of these taverns got hit in the head with a beer bottle, and the two responding officers were trying first to attend to that injury. The atmosphere on Main Street at the time was full of aggression, with fights regularly breaking out in a crowd that was estimated to be about 100-150 humans in size. The way that bystanders were accosting, those officers felt unsafe enough that they called for backup first from other Town officers and then from those assigned to the university. They also threatened to use pepper spray to disperse the crowd and allow them to administer first aid, which led to the filing of incident reports which were the reason for the discussion.
Reviewing the video footage, Lucchesi said, “I was disgusted” by the behavior of those bystanders toward the officers. The chief was also “proud of the composure that our people showed.” Commission members were encouraged to review the video material. As Lucchesi described it, when the officers arrived on the scene, they were “immediately swarmed by a large crowd which grows,” a crowd in which “there were fights breaking out all over the place.”
Commissioner David Brownstein, noting that this occurred around three in the morning, said, “I don’t think bars should be open then.” The commissioner noted that this kind of “mob” situation was unheard of pre-pandemic, but “threatening a crowd with pepper spray is common now.” Brownstein pressed the chief to understand how this dangerous climate came about on the sidewalk. “Were they tossed out for you to deal with instead, or what?”
“We don’t want to go inside the bar,” the chief explained, because in such close quarters carrying a firearm might become more dangerous. Lucchesi blamed the rise in incidents on a “public that is emboldened to physically challenge police officers.”