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Thursday, 14 April 2016 17:15

Heroin

No Murder Charge in NYS for Dealing Death

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Another young victim was lost last week to the war on drugs, a 23-year-old local woman who died of a drug overdose right here in Saratoga Springs. For her, and many families like hers, the drug war is more of a street fight, one that lurks in every home medicine cabinet, haunts every playground, and boldly grins through every neighborhood here and across America. 

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – On Tuesday, March 15, The Saratoga Springs Police Lieutenant’s Police Benevolent Association (PBA) named Sergeant Tyler McIntosh as the 2015 Officer of the Year. This award is given each year by the Saratoga Springs Police Lieutenants to an officer that displays excellence in policing and dedication to duty throughout the year.

The award ceremony, which took place in City Hall late Tuesday afternoon, was attended by fellow officers, as well as Police Chief Greg Veitch and Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathieson.

Lt. Sean Briscoe presented Sgt. McIntosh with his award and praised him for his accomplishments in the Department over the years, calling him a “proactive officer” and complimenting his “high standard of duty and professionalism.”

“It’s an honor to be selected, it means a lot to me,” said Sgt. McIntosh after the ceremony. “[This award] reinforces the hard work that I’ve done. It’s nice to be recognized for my positive influence and my role in the department.”

Sergeant McIntosh was hired as a patrol officer in July 2012, and graduated from the Zone 5 Regional Law Enforcement Academy on January 11, 2013. After graduating from Zone 5, Sgt. McIntosh attended the United States Army’s Officer Candidate School. Upon completion of his training there, he received his commission as a Second Lieutenant.

Before becoming a police officer, McIntosh joined the Army National Guard when he was 18, where he became First Lieutenant.

“Military and law enforcement have always intrigued me,” said McIntosh, who knew back in high school what he wanted his career to be.

McIntosh’s favorite part of the job is being out on the road, and doing what he is known for: DWI enforcement. Knowing the amount of innocent people injured and killed by drunk drivers fuels McIntosh’s dedication for enforcing this problem. In 2015, while assigned as patrol officer on the midnight shift, McIntosh made 40 arrests for Driving While Intoxicated. On several occasions, he was given praise from prosecuting attorneys.

Lt. Briscoe called his DWI arrests an “exceptional feat” and that it “frames his work ethic quite well.”

In September 2015, McIntosh accepted a promotion to the rank of Sergeant, an exceptional accomplishment for an officer with such a short tenure in the department. Currently, McIntosh is assigned as a first line patrol supervisor on the evening shift.

 

When asked what makes him proud in his line of work, Sgt. McIntosh replied, “Knowing that I give 100 percent effort in everything I do and seeing that impact through training and developing relationships with other officers. Putting in the time and effort to make the department the best it can be gives me pride.” 

Published in News
Monday, 14 March 2016 17:39

Behind the Thin Blue Line

 

My Night on a Police Ride Along

SARATOGA SPRINGS —Sergeant Mark Leffler’s experienced ears responded quickly to the voice I hardly noticed on the radio, breaking off our conversation about local DWI incidents. The lights and siren went on, and I could feel a slight increase in G’s as our vehicle sped down Broadway, traffic quickly moving out of our way. 

“Ambulance in route,” came dispatcher Aneisha Liska’s calm voice into the unmarked vehicle. That, I heard. It was about 3:15 a.m. on Saturday morning, March 5, about the time my ride-along shift with the Saratoga Springs Police Department was about to end, and it sounded like it was about to end on a sober note.

Up until this point, it had been fairly quiet, a routine night in Saratoga. I had arrived at the double doors on Lake Avenue leading to both the police station and the department of public works at around 8 p.m. Friday, March 4. The air was country-crisp and clean, wrapped in the welcoming twilight of the city lights that held the cold night at bay. I remember thinking, no wonder people make the drive from Albany up here after the bars close there. Saratoga Springs is quite pretty at any hour, and it smells nice. 

I paused at the security window of the Saratoga Springs Police Department and was welcomed by Officer Jonathan VanWie, 29, who wore his uniform with the ease of someone twice his age. “I love it here,” he told me. “It’s a great department to work for – very much community-based policing.” 

We started in the dispatch office, where I met Aaron Deuel and Aneisha Liska, who field the calls as they come in.  The room was softly lit, with most of the glow coming from the multiple monitors at each desk. One wall was lined with a glass partition between the front of the office and dispatch, and Sergeant Robert Dennis leaned in through the window to sing the praises of the dispatch department. 

“There aren’t that many cities left that still have local dispatchers,” he said. “The 911 calls are routed through the county sheriff’s office directly to the officers, but our calls are routed here.” 

Dennis explained that local dispatchers are supreme multitaskers. They not only dispatch the call quickly, but they simultaneously research the call and keep the officers updated with their findings, such as whether there might be a gun registered to the homeowner on a domestic dispute call. According to Dennis, county dispatchers don’t have time to provide that level of background, and that work provided by local dispatch has saved time, money, and lives.

The station was bigger than it appeared, and tours are commonly held for schools and other groups. I was taken to the interview rooms where suspects and victims were questioned. We then visited the initial intake area where the personal belongings of suspects were inventoried and their photos taken. Hanging on the wall were sturdy shackles that made me immediately think of every prison movie I’d ever seen. I saw the digital fingerprinting station, the breathalyzer that was set and ready to go,  the roll-call room that doubles for training, and the storage area for firearms. We also visited the room where the body cameras were recharged and downloaded for future review or to be deleted, as the case may be. 

VanWie drove a marked police vehicle that was equipped with the standard dashboard camera, computer monitor and printer for checking license plates and inputting traffic tickets, and secure places for firearms. As we drove along, he demonstrated how he could flip a switch to see the speeds of all the cars coming toward us or going away from us, easily distinguishable at a glance. 

We drove through different areas of the city as a standard check, pulling through the train station, down Broadway and through different neighborhoods. We spoke about his training at the police academy, and the regular firearm training all officers receive throughout the year, even though state law does not require additional training for officers beyond initial firearm certification. VanWie’s training has prepared him for everything from domestic disputes to active shooter situations, and even to notice, in the few seconds that a car drove past us, that its inspection sticker was out of date.  

Around 11:30 p.m., after a few routine calls, I was handed over to the care of Sergeant Mark Leffler, well-known for his numerous DWI arrests and named 2014 Officer of the Year by the Saratoga Springs Police Lieutenant’s Police Benevolent Association. He had a hand in the background checks and training of some of the young officers working that night, and in his capacity as patrol supervisor on the midnight shift, we took his unmarked vehicle to back up some of the traffic stops of other officers. 

Just as VanWie did, we took a tour of various neighborhoods and businesses, checking that all is normal. By 1 a.m., Caroline Street had a strolling crowd of laughing people enjoying a relaxing Friday night with friends and coworkers. I couldn’t help but smile as we slowly pulled past the wave of people out having a good time. 

Some, however, were having too good of a time. Leffler and I pulled in behind one DWI stop, watching while Officer Joe Hughes put a driver through a sobriety field test. The sergeant explained each step to me as the driver walked a line, balanced on one foot, and finally turned and put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed with a rueful smile, knowing he’d been caught fair and square. Leffler inventoried the vehicle before the tow truck took it away, and as I watched him pull open the door, we were both hit by the smell of alcohol pouring invisibly out of the SUV. 

There was a domestic dispute call that also looked like it involved alcohol, as the man on the front lawn could barely stand. There were two other cars on the scene, and after checking with the officers, we went on our way. Another call came in about a man seemingly asleep behind the wheel of a parked car, and we drove up in time to see one of the patrol officers stepping back from the man as he bent over and lost his dinner. “At least he had the good sense to not start his car,” said Leffler, after he confirmed the officer didn’t need his help and we moved on. 

The dispatcher called us to back up one of the officers who had stopped a car with a handgun in it. Protocol requires backup in such cases, even for licensed guns. As the officer put the driver through a sobriety field test, Leffler removed the handgun from the car. “There’s a passenger,” he told me, so they couldn’t leave the gun in the car in that case. It occurred to me that much of police protocol was based in the common sense adage, better safe than sorry. 

And then it was after 3 a.m. and we were being called, along with an ambulance, onto Caroline Street. 

Leffler was assessing the situation well before he stopped the vehicle, and he decided he could allow me to get out. There was a crowd of about 30 people on the south side of the street, and a few onlookers on the north side, where I first went to find out what was going on. 

The temperature had dropped considerably, and angry voices bounced like a thousand ping pongs through the cold night air, mingled with the lower but firm responses of the officers. 

“He’s bleeding, can’t you see he’s bleeding?”

“You get your hands off me – don’t you tell me what to do!”

“Ma’am, I need you to stand back.”

I counted five police officers, including Leffler, and two first responders from the ambulance that had arrived. The officers were trying to separate the crowd, asking the onlookers to disburse so they could get to the heart of the problem, which appeared to be a group of women of various ages who were angry about the treatment of a young man who was sitting on the steps of a vestibule holding his head. He appeared to be okay except for something on his head that I couldn’t see because his hand was over it. 

The onlookers on the north side of the street told me they hadn’t seen a thing, so I moved back across the street to see and hear better. The young man was taken to the back of the ambulance and when next I saw him, he was holding a square white bandage to his head and yelling at the EMT who had a clipboard, “I’m only 17. I’m not signing nothing!”

The group looked like family and friends dressed to celebrate something, and the party got out of hand. One of the bouncers at a nearby bar told me that the group had tried to get into one of the bars and the bouncer refused to let the young man in, and got punched in the face for his trouble. Another bouncer pulled the kid off the first bouncer, and somehow the youth ended up on the ground. It wasn’t clear if he was pushed, thrown, or fell, but he hit his head on the way down.

The crowd had grown as people were leaving the bars either to find out what was going on or to end their evenings. I was shivering and had to put my gloves on to keep writing, but the crowd didn’t seem to notice the cold. Men and women with varying degrees of delight or disgust on their faces passed by, watching as the officers continued to move the original party further down the street away from the spectators, who weren’t making things any easier for them.

One sandy-blonde haired man of about 30 years old was practically skipping through the crowd, laughing and shouting something in slurred words with his arms out for balance, weaving in and out among the onlookers and the angry partiers. I could see the officers looking at each other to see who could get a handle on this guy, but there wasn’t one to spare – they each had their hands full with an angry person in their faces, refusing to go home or calmly explain what happened. 

Another onlooker, who smelled strongly of stale beer, began jeering and chanting at the top of his voice. The way the sound bounced between the buildings on the narrow street, I’m not sure people could really hear him above all the other voices crowding the night, but it suddenly occurred to me that there were not enough police officers to handle all these people if things did get ugly by something like the incendiary words this drunk was throwing. Looking at the officers’ faces again, it was clear they knew that, too, and I could see all their energies were concentrated on keeping the crowd calm. 

The scene appeared to be a lesson in the consequences of too much to drink. Caroline Street at 4 in the morning was filled with people stumbling, designated drivers supporting them out the doors, bouncers standing firmly with their arms crossed but ready, people shouting for cabs that couldn’t get through because of the police cars and ambulance, and the original group of about seven or eight women who would not disburse after the officers arrested and took away their young suspect. 

I glanced down at my notes for a second and looked back up to see an officer had pinned one of the women against the trunk of a police vehicle, having cuffed one hand and was trying to cuff the other. She was yelling and fighting with all her strength, and it took three officers to hold her down and get her cuffed. 

The bouncer near me said the officer who had initially tried to handcuff her had the patience of a saint. It was hard to see much beyond their shadowed forms with the bright, flashing police lights behind them, but it looked to me like they were just trying to hold her still to get the cuffs on, but she used her whole body to fight them off. It was a far cry from the drunk driver earlier who ruefully smiled and gave himself up easily.

I would later speak with Police Chief Gregory Veitch, who told me that it was standard procedure to hold an internal investigation with every use of force to assure that those incidents were being conducted appropriately. “I’m very proud of the officers and how we handle things,” said Veitch. “They could lose their tempers, and we train them not to. I’m very proud at how well they handle themselves in these situations.” 

Once the cuffs finally fastened, the middle-aged woman slipped between the officers down to the ground and huddled there, laying at the edge of the cold sidewalk next to the police car. At least four smartphones appeared in the crowd and began shooting video. The officers tried to help her to her feet, but she refused, saying she couldn’t breathe and had asthma. They immediately signaled for the EMTs to step forward and the ambulance rolled up closer so she could be placed in a stretcher and taken to the hospital.  

The street began to clear, then. It was as if it were the end of a movie, with all the tension suddenly drained as people walked away in different directions, chatting about what they’d seen. I was so cold my teeth were chattering, but I didn’t want to get back in the car just yet. Caroline Street had changed. Officers were getting into their cars or ushering onlookers on their way, bars were shutting doors and locking up, and the noise and smell were beginning to fade in the pre-dawn. This was the street that hours earlier was filled with people taking a break from everyday life to enjoy each other’s company, the same street that became a tinderbox waiting for a match by 4 a.m., a match that never lit because of a thin blue line. 

Published in News
Friday, 28 March 2014 11:18

Heroin: No Community Has Immunity

SARATOGA SPRINGS— We tend to wax romantic about our community. And in truth, compared to other communities, we are relatively safe. As such, we sometimes fall into an illusion that we are insulated from the worst of society’s ills. 

 

But at street level, there’s no such illusion. This is the reality Sergeant Tim Sicko and the Saratoga Springs Police Investigation Division sees: 

 

“Just in the last four to five months, we’ve seen over a half-dozen overdoses from heroin.” He said. Moreover, “the number of heroin buys my (undercover) officers make have risen significantly over the past two and one-half years I’ve been in charge of the division.” The Investigation Division oversees both the drug and criminal units.

 

When asked to estimate the percentage, Sergeant Sicko commented. “Undercover buys of heroin were maybe 2 out of 100 just a couple of years ago, when we saw mostly crack cocaine and pills on the street. Today, I would estimate it’s closer to 50 percent.” He said.

 

The Prevention Council of Saratoga confirms that a significant uptick in heroin usage in this community has occurred, as part of a nationwide trend. Executive Director Janine Stuchin noted:

 

“No one starts off on heroin. National and local studies have shown that the recent upsurge in heroin use is directly connected with prescription pain killer (opiate) abuse.” 

 

The purpose of this article is not to sensationalize or unduly alarm, but to educate and advocate that if your head is in the sand about heroin in Saratoga County and you are thinking “it can’t happen here,” take a look around. 

 

“It” already is happening. 

 

And while no one will purport that Saratoga County has as bad a problem as some of the larger and more urban cities, to deny the insidious presence of this most insidious of drugs would be irresponsible. 

 

Both Ms. Stuchin and Sgt. Sicko cite the relative inexpensiveness of heroin as a factor in its recent rise in usage. “Heroin is less expensive than illicit prescription pain killers such as oxycodone, explaining the trend toward increased heroin use.” Ms. Stuchin noted. Sgt. Sicko also noted the “difficult, painful withdrawal process” that is involved from heroin once addicted that will naturally keep people looking for their next fix. 

 

Compounding this is the phenomenon of the “chase after the initial high,” as Sgt. Sicko put it, which would lead a user who might have started snorting heroin to graduate to a needle for a greater effect. 

 

Finally, you have the factor that, according to any study, the profile of the heroin user is younger than ever. “One of the recent overdoses we had was someone in their 20s,” Sgt. Sicko noted, “fortunately, he was not a fatality.” 

 

For the user, Sgt. Sicko noted that a factor compounding the danger of heroin are the other substances that are lacing it; substances which can be even more lethal than the heroin itself. “You don’t know what you are accepting or where it came from.” Sgt. Sicko noted. “In contrast, you can look at a given pill and if you are savvy, recognize the manufacturer – although this is not foolproof.” 

 

Heroin dealers attempt to mitigate this by engaging in a “branding” exercise: Labeling their nickel or dime bags with a logo or markings that would tend to inspire a false sense of confidence – I’ve bought this before, it’s OK – yet, Sergeant Sicko rightly points out that the street dealer has little knowledge of where today’s batch came from, if they were inclined to care in the first place. 

 

He spread an array of evidence bags before us and my eyes kept going to one dealer’s mark.

 

All I could think of was: How desperate would you have to be to shoot up from a bag that is marked “Game Over.”?

 

But is the game over? Hardly. 

 

“We have a number of full-time people who are on top of this daily,” Sgt. Sicko notes, “you’re seeing a significant increase in heroin arrests because our people, working with other law enforcement divisions such as the State Police, as well as a network of informants, are battling this daily and we have no intention of pulling back.”

 

“We are nowhere near the level of activity of other cities precisely because we are fortunate to have a group of young officers who are dedicated and on top of things… when a dealer comes to town to set up shop, we usually know who that person is already,” he continued. “But it’s a matter of constant vigilance.”

 

In that connection, Sgt. Sicko noted that while the profile of the heroin user the police are has gotten younger, this is not a major problem at either the High School (where he lauded the work of Officer Lloyd Davis who is stationed there), or on the Skidmore campus at this point. 

 

The Prevention Council confirms this, to some extent. “Our data from student surveys in Saratoga County show about eight percent of high school students are involved in prescription drug abuse and one percent reporting using heroin,” noted Janine Stuchin.

 

Any law enforcement officer would acknowledge that even with a consistent focus on interdicting heroin supply, long-term effectiveness of any effort is dependent upon programs that educate and impact on demand. Sgt. Sicko, while acknowledging that the restoration of D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) funding in the city is something on his “wish list,” cites that the education programs provided by the Prevention Council are invaluable.

 

“The role of the Prevention Council in addressing the scourge of heroin in our community is to be preventive rather than reactive.” Ms. Stuchin said. We do this though programs, like Too Good for Drugs, taught in many local school districts, which educate children on the inherent dangers.”

 

“We regularly collaborate with law enforcement with drug take-back days. For instance, the next National Prescription Take-Back Day will be Saturday, April 26 and we will be announcing local sites that will be participating.”

 

But both the police and Prevention Council note that the real education and greatest impact is an outgrowth of effective parenting. “Parents should not be afraid to talk to their kids and find out ‘what do you know about this stuff?’ Look at who they are hanging out with and take note of changes in behavior and appearance, for instance.” Sgt. Sicko says. 

 

 

While it would be nice to have an ending here, in fact this is a story about the process of progress, the ebb and flow of societal struggles and responses; perhaps a battle that will never be won, but nonetheless a battle worth undertaking daily. 

Published in News
Friday, 08 November 2013 07:25

Setting the Record Straight

SARATOGA SPRINGS – In the wake of recent accusations of a cover up, claims of police brutality and of an alleged choking of a female prisoner, Chief of Police Greg Veitch said he stands behind the men and women of his department and the investigations into the incidents. 

Published in News
Friday, 13 September 2013 13:23

Response to Public Accusations of Police Brutality

 

At the City Council Meeting on September 3, 2013 Guy Pierce of Doten Ave. made serious accusations of police brutality against Saratoga Springs Police Officers. During the public comment period Mr. Pierce stated that he had been arrested and beaten by police on September 2, 2013 and that he further had been harassed and beaten by police during numerous encounters with police since he was 16 years old. Mr. Pierce’s allegations are unfounded.  

Published in News
Monday, 02 September 2013 14:11

Press Release Regarding Foot Pursuit

The following is the press release issued by Saratoga Springs Police Chief Greg Veitch concerning the foot pursuit of Darryl Mount:

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- At about 3:02 a.m. Saturday morning police officers assigned to foot patrol on Caroline Street reported that they observed a 21 -ear-old male, later identified as Darryl Mount, Jr. of Malta, shove a female’s head into a brick wall near the corner of Caroline Street and Broadway.  Police officers approached Mr. Mount and he fled on foot.  

Police officers then engaged in a foot pursuit in an attempt to stop Mount and take him into custody.  Saratoga Springs Police Department policy mandates an arrest in cases of domestic violence where any offense is committed in the presence of an officer, even if the victim does not want to pursue the arrest or prosecution. 

Mount ran south on Broadway into the alley on the north side of the Washington Building at 422 Broadway.Police officers twice attempted to deploy the Taser electronic control device during the foot pursuit while in the alley.Both attempts failed and did not make any contact with Mount who continued to run behind the Washington Building into the construction area at the rear of the building.  All Taser probes have been recovered at the scene and have been secured in the custody of the police department.  The recovery of the Taser probes confirms that there was no contact made with Mount or his clothing.      

At the rear of the building a wooden barrier is in place to prevent unauthorized access to the construction area and scaffolding behind the building.  The area behind the building has no lighting and was wet from rain that had fallen earlier in the evening. Police officers pursuing Mount reported that he climbed over a railing adjacent to the wooden barrier and onto the scaffolding at the rear of the building.  Only one officer pursued Mount onto the scaffolding and he was slowed by the construction area that is a tangle of wood and metal posts and support beams.  It was at this point that the following officer lost sight of Mount briefly.  Once the officer made his way onto the scaffolding he no longer could see Mount.

Other officers then ran around the front of the building to Gardner Lane next to Lillian’s in an attempt to secure any escape routes and establish a perimeter. The initial officer trailing Mount noticed an individual approaching the area along the sidewalk between Gaffney’s and Izumi Bar and Grill.  He called to the person to inquire if they had seen anyone running through the area and the witness reported that he heard a thud or crash and came to investigate but that he did not see anyone running.  A few moments later, the officer on the scaffolding observed Mount lying on the ground as other officers began arriving from the area of Putnam Street.  They found Mount unresponsive but breathing and called for emergency medical treatment.  

Saratoga Fire Department personnel arrived and provided medical care on scene, including cutting away Mount’s clothing. He was then transported by members of SSFD to Albany Medical Center.  

The police department has received several calls inquiring if police officers have been suspended or charged in relation to this incident.  Many have referred to allegations made on social media and other internet websites.  Some of the calls reference police officers, by name, who were not even working at the time. Some have referred to the tearing of Mount’s clothing as evidence that the police tore his clothing off of him during a beating although firefighters cut off his clothing to attend to his injuries as they do in many serious injury cases.Others still have claimed the police assaulted Mount on Caroline Street and were later seen chasing him down Gardiner Lane. There is no evidence at this point that police engaged in anything other than a foot pursuit onto unlit construction scaffolding behind 422 Broadway. The pursuit was begun after officers observed Mount assault another person and in accordance with what Saratoga Springs Police Officers are mandated to do. No witnesses have come forward and stated that they observed police officers using force on Mount. Anyone who claims that they observed any officers beating a suspect in this or any case is encouraged to contact me directly and I will personally take their statement.  

A canvass of the area for video has been conducted. None of the video in possession of the police department shows the area behind 422 Broadway or the attached scaffolding. There is video of Caroline Street showing Mount shoving the female victim into the wall just off of Broadway, running away, and police officers giving chase.Video on Broadway shows several officers in pursuit of Mount as he runs into the alley on the north side of 422 Broadway and moments later three officers running from the alley south bound in front of the building to Gardner Lane as they attempt to intercept Mount or establish a perimeter at the rear of the building.A third video shows officers running down Gardner Lane; no one is running in front of them. All of the video is secured as evidence pending grand jury action.  

Because police officers had lost sight of Mount and no witnesses have come forward who observed what happened in the area behind 422 Broadway, police speculate Mount somehow fell or jumped from the scaffolding in an attempt evade police. This was the initial report to dispatchers who provided that information to responding medical personnel. At the time of the incident, the area had no lighting. The scaffolding has many wood and metal support and cross beams and one can only pass through the area by stooping to avoid the cross beams or by hanging off of the edge of the scaffolding. It is about 19 to 20 feet from the scaffolding to the ground where Mount was found.  Falls from this height can result in very serious injuries.  

Mount has suffered serious, life threatening injuries. It is most important that he gets the medical care he needs to recover. It is for that reason alone that the police have not formally charged Mount with any offense at this point. Any criminal case will proceed at an appropriate time in consultation with prosecuting authorities. 

I would again encourage anyone who has information regarding this incident to contact the police department at (518) 584-1800, on the web at www.saratogapolice.org or anonymously at (518) 584-TIPS.  

Any allegation of police brutality will be taken seriously by the Saratoga Springs Police Department.This investigation is still on-going.  There may be additional facts, evidence or witnesses that are not yet known to the police. I encourage anyone who witnessed this incident to report their information to authorities.  

Gregory J. Veitch   

Chief of Police 

Saratoga Springs Police Department                                                      

 

Published in News

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