POLICING SARATOGA SPRINGS
JULY. SATURDAY. 8PM-5AM.
AS A CANDIDATE FOR PUBLIC SAFETY COMMISSIONER, THERE IS NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT TO ME THAN UNDERSTANDING THE CHALLENGES OF POLICING OUR CITY AND SEEING WHAT THE OFFICERS ON PATROL FACE EVERY DAY. THANK YOU TO THE SARATOGA SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT FOR LETTING ME RIDE ALONG WITH YOU THIS SUMMER, IT IS MY SINCERE HOPE THAT I WILL BE WORKING WITH YOU, OUR FIRE DEPARTMENT AND PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICE COME 2020.VOTE ROBIN DALTON FOP PUBLIC SAFETY ON NOVEMBER 5TH.
Living on lower Caroline Street for the last nine years, I’ve seen our city at its best – and its worst. That is exactly why I asked to go out with the SSPD on a Saturday night during track season. I was in a patrol car from 8 p.m.-Midnight, and then primarily on foot on Caroline Street from Midnight-5 a.m. So what is it like to police our city on one of the busiest nights of the year? Terrifying, inspiring, shocking, exciting, and impressive among other things. Read on...
I arrived at the police station on Lake Avenue around 7:45 p.m. and met Andrew, the officer with whom I would spend the first half of the night. I had a tour of the station and met other officers, as well as the dispatchers, and saw equipment central in full use. I was given a bullet-proof vest to put on, and the safety risks and rules of the night were explained thoroughly to me. Then off we went. Andrew and I headed out to our ride, Unit #13, and I settled in with my notebook and about a million questions as we started out into the city.
Andrew showed me the monitors each patrol car has and how to see what incidents are coming in and who is responding to what. I knocked something behind me that turned out to be an AR-15 rifle (aka - an enormous gun) and then asked what the officers were armed with while on duty, which turns out to be a taser, side arm, pepper spray, baton and rifle.
We responded to a large variety of calls/incidents over the next four hours, from welfare checks to fights, possible DUIs and a lot of highly intoxicated people doing everything you can imagine, some legal, some not.
9:52 p.m.:We pull over a car on Excelsior Avenue for failure to use a turn signal – and also because we witness the car slowly crossing the double yellow lines more than once, indicating a possible DUI. Andrew seems super-human in how observative he is, noticing tail lights that are out, failures to signal, cars parked on the side of the road and a host of other suspicious behaviors that I am completely oblivious to. The second he steps out of our car to walk up to the driver we’ve pulled over, I have instant butterflies in my stomach. I had no idea how panicked I would be watching him walk up to a driver and not knowing what that person might do. I felt totally helpless and couldn't stop thinking about what I might do if something went wrong. At the beginning of the night Andrew had taught me how to radio Dispatch and what to say in the event something did happen, but that didn’t ease my worry for him in the moment. Luckily, the out-of-state driver checked out okay and was sent on his way with a warning.
Throughout the night, it was interesting to see how often the officers would let someone go with just a warning if they could. They told me on more than one occasion how they balance their responsibility to keep people safe with allowing people to have fun and enjoy Saratoga Springs. I was impressed with their approach and restraint, and truly appreciate the spirit in which they worked.
Andrew has been on our police force for four years and is 28 years old. Actually, of the officers on duty Saturday night, the oldest was 32, making me feel like a dinosaur at 38. The officers’ ages had absolutely no correlation to how they policed, but afterward, when I thought about the situations they confront every day, it’s a significant fact to remember. For example, when Andrew and I were driving down Nelson Avenue, he pointed to a tree on the side of the road and told me about three years ago when he had driven up on an active rape happening at that very spot. Wilfredo Diaz, a level-two sex-offender, had chased down a woman who had rebuffed his advances in a nearby parking lot. Andrew and the SSPD responded, and subsequently Diaz was convicted and sentenced to 51 ⅓ years to life in prison.
I thought about the 25-year olds I know, and what I was like at that age, and asked Andrew how he dealt with seeing something so horrifying. He said he went home that night and cried. I was sick to my stomach thinking about him experiencing that; no amount of training or experience could possibly prepare you to see the worst of humankind.
On we went.
I was particularly interested to witness the dynamic between the homeless and the police. I know that with the growth of our homeless population over the last 4-5 years, the SSPD spends a significant amount of time interacting with them. What I saw not once, but multiple times throughout the night, and with several different officers, was a bit of a surprise. I assumed there would be some hostility or animosity between the two groups given the nature of their interactions, but I could not have been more wrong. Andrew knew the names of nearly everyone we saw that night, and was waved over to say hello again and again. I could not get over the positive rapport and approach Andrew had with not just the homeless, but everyone he encountered while we were on duty.
11:15 p.m.:Caroline Street was already mobbed. It’s the discretion of the SSPD to decide whether or not to block Caroline Street to traffic; this Saturday night, they had. Andrew finished his shift at 11 p.m., and I was now out with Becky, a 32-year old officer. Becky and I walked through hoards of people to the top of the street where a handful of other officers stood, flanked by Apollo and King Tut, our mounted police horses.
About the mounted patrol unit... during the day, the member I run into most is Officer Glenn Barrett. Quite often, he is on mounted patrol duty, which during daytime hours means he has a steady stream of people approaching his horse, taking pictures and asking a lot of questions. I’ve always thought it was a great way for the department to interact with the public and spread goodwill (it doesn’t hurt that Officer Barrett is also incredibly personable and engaging).
Well, at night, it’s a whole other story. The mounted patrol means business – there is no touching the horses, no photos and no small talk. They are there to support the officers on foot and control the crowd; the job they do is nothing short of spectacular. An incident on the corner of Caroline and Putnam was reported, and off we went on foot to deal with a group of intoxicated kids who had just been tossed out of a bar. They were upset, angry and causing a commotion. Just as the foot patrol began to deal with them, I looked up and saw the mounted patrol who had come down and surrounded the group, effectively removing them from the crush of people on Caroline Street. The horses move with precision and grace, blocking off the group while the officers on foot resolve the situation. Then off they go on their mounts.
1 a.m.:A fist fight is reported on Broadway and Division, and the two horses immediately start cantering down the sidewalk in response. Watching them gave me chills; the visual was nothing short of biblical. By the time we caught up, the officers were laughing with a group of young men who had just been rough-housing and were sheepishly apologizing for the mix-up.
4:14 a.m.:They were down on lower Caroline Street, dispersing the crowd outside the last bar to shut its doors. Watching the mounted patrol throughout the night was one of the most impressive, unexpected parts of my experience. They support the officers on the ground without communication, yet so effectively it is almost like watching a choreographed dance.
Over the course of nine hours, what I witnessed was a group of people who perform their job with unbelievable maturity, professionalism and restraint. They are compassionate, committed and going the extra mile, despite the extremely challenging circumstances they are faced with every day – and night.
There is no question in my mind that we need to add more officers to our police department. The on-duty officers that Saturday night were barely enough to cover downtown, forget the rest of the city. They are so outnumbered I worry about the officers’ safety, not to mention the vulnerable position the rest of our city is left in then.
As I walked into my house at 5 a.m. and watched the sun rise, all I could think about was the tremendous pride I felt for our police department – and the gravity of the commitment I am making by my run for Public Safety Commissioner. We have incredible fire and police departments, but there is still much work to be done. It would be my privilege to lead the way forward, a privilege I won’t take lightly. Please elect me to be your Commissioner of Public Safety on November 5th.