Thursday, 18 April 2013 20:09

Combating Crime: Police Department Faces Challenges As City Grows

By Patricia Older | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Faced with a growing population and quickly changing cityscape, the Saratoga Springs Police Department is challenged with finding a way to combat a slowly increasing upswing in crime while working with a police force that is 20 percent less than what it was three years ago.

“Saratoga Springs is good at promoting itself and with that comes a lot of good things like tourists and businesses and growth,” said Lt. John Catone of the SSPD. “But those things also create an increase in traffic and traffic problems, drug use and drug sales and an increase in crime–it all goes hand in hand.”

Catone said that burglaries in the Spa City were up by 30 percent in 2012 and larcenies were up by 10 percent. He added that this year, crimes in the Spa City are already ahead of last year’s numbers. 

“Last year, from January 1 to April 15 we had 12 business burglaries and 15 residential,” said Catone. “So far this year for the exact time period, we have 13 business burglaries and 18 residential.” 

With the recent rash of seemingly more brazen and brutal crimes, a standing room only crowd was at Tuesday’s meeting and many expressed concern about feeling safe walking the streets of Saratoga. 

City resident Robin Dalton addressed the board, noting that for the first time in her life, she feels the streets of Saratoga Springs are no longer safe. 

“I came to the city council meeting tonight because after the recent assaults in Saratoga Springs, I find myself, for the first time, nervous to walk somewhere in my neighborhood after the sun sets,” said Dalton.

Jennifer Leidig echoed Dalton’s concerns, telling board members that while she recognizes everyone has a responsibility in being safe, she is still concerned over the recent assaults. 

“I am here to lend my voice to the countless women who enjoy living in a pedestrian-friendly community,” said Leidig. “We realize that it’s just not the city’s responsibility; and we realize it’s just not citizens’ responsibility, but we have to somehow work together.”

Assistant Chief of Police Greg Veitch, who had been at the Council meeting to discuss the recent wave of violent crimes, found himself on the offensive and trying to explain what the department was facing. 

“We are trying to do everything we can to maintain the number of officers on the street,” said Veitch, adding that the department, in the wave of recent years’ budget cuts, has eliminated K-9 units, DARE and training officers. “We have even taken three officers out of the traffic division and placed them in patrol. We are doing all we can to maintain the levels of officers out on the street on active duty.”

Catone said earlier in the week the staffing issues came following the 2009–2010 budget cuts in which seven officers were laid off. 

“In doing that, other factors weren’t taken into account,” explained Catone. “We had several retire, others suffered long-term injuries and there are about a dozen who are members of the National Guard and we’ve had two wars.” 

The department had 72 officers on staff in 2009 – in 2013, there are 58. 

He noted that while he is budgeted for 67 officers, it is usually a nine to 10 month process from once a candidate is chosen until they are an active member of the department. 

First, Catone explained, is an extensive background check, which can take up to three months to complete. Next, the police academy only accepts recruits twice a year – January or July – and the course is six months long. Following graduation from the academy, the recruit is required to complete 13 weeks of mandated field training. 

“It is problematic,” said Catone, “The city has grown, the population has grown and the amount of events held in the city has more than tripled. All these increases in people result in increases in crime.”

He also pointed out that it is not just the growth of Saratoga which contributes to the issue, but the municipalities that surround it, including Malta, Wilton, Milton and the recent addition of GlobalFoundries. 

“What other city can go from 30,000 to 100,000 in a short period of time on a regular basis?” said Catone, adding that the growth and the popularity of the Spa City means “we are doing something right.” 

Catone said he would like for his department to be more proactive in their fight against crime.

“With staffing, we have to be reactive because we do not have enough people to be pro-active,” said Catone. “That is why it is important for citizens to help.”

He noted that while most people would like to believe drugs are not an issue in the Spa City, they are one of the causes of the increase in crime. 

“We know the increase in burglaries and larcenies is because of an increase in drug trafficking,” said Catone, adding that people with drug addictions often resort to crime to feed their habits. 

He also said that while some of the crimes in the city have become more violent, he noticed that domestic assaults were also becoming increasingly more violent. 

Catone also pointed out that many of the people turning up in blotter are not even from Saratoga Springs, noting that when popular bars in some Capital District cities have closed, some of the problems transferred here. 

For example, he said, when Sneaky Pete’s closed, Club Shadow opened on Caroline Street. While it had a bar downstairs, it also had a club room upstairs that became a problem with assaults and out of control patrons. After it was shut down in the summer of 2011, the crowd moved to the Metro and the “same problem” erupted. The Metro closed its door last fall. 

Catone said to combat those issues, the police department, along with the Saratoga County DA’s office and representatives from the state’s liquor authority met with restaurant and tavern owners. 

“We basically said they had to take responsibility,” said Catone, adding that Gaffney’s owner, John Baker, took the bull by the horns and organized everyone. 

“We had overwhelming support,” said Catone, adding that the bar and restaurant owners have even “set up a texting system for problematic customers so that they can’t start a problem at another establishment.” 

He said that system and support for the downtown businesses has helped. 

“Last year we had regular issues, but no longer had the large scale riots and fights,” said Catone, adding that it made it easier to send his officers to other areas in town with the cooperation. “By getting them on board by policing themselves and making the changes they made, it has made a big difference.” 

As for residents’ concerns about the increases in crime, Catone said everyone has to become involved in helping keep the city safe by becoming more aware and by paying attention to their surroundings.  

“You do not have to be nervous every time a car pulls up, but if you see someone who doesn’t need to be there, pay attention,” said Catone. “If you need us to check it out, give us a call and we’ll check it out.” 

He said that the City had approved the purchase of six security cameras to be installed in the downtown area. A test camera was installed last year and proved successful. Cameras have already been installed in Congress Park for several years following the vandalism of Spit and Spat. 

“Saratoga is still a great place to come to, to raise your family, to enjoy,” said Catone. “But we are still a city and with a city, you will have city problems.”

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