Police commissioners and Chief Joe Snyder struggled to come up with a compromise in how to deal with the top investigator’s impending exit from the NPPD ranks. Dugatkin, who has been a cop for 20 years and a detective for 10, recently accepted a position with the SUNY New Paltz University Police Department as their new chief of police.
Right now, the Police Department operates in a town with all the normal crimes and caseload of a college town. However, rapes, burglaries, gang crimes and drug-related crimes are attended to by only two detectives -- the sergeant and the detective below him.
“There are crimes committed in New Paltz, and we do need a Detective Division,” explained Commissioner Matt Aube. But with a Town Board hungry to save taxpayers some money and make cuts where they can, the Police Commission asked Chief Snyder to leave Detective Sgt. Dugatkin’s spot open.
“I don’t think that’s workable,” the chief said, adding that the Police Department would be hard pressed to function without investigators working long-term crime cases. Sometimes detectives can work a case anywhere from a month to a few years depending on the circumstances -- a feat beyond the scope of duty of a beat cop. “They do so much for this department, for the community.”
In fact, New Paltz’s two detectives find themselves with a lot of work, according to the outgoing detective sergeant. Rather than thinking about halving the Detective Division staff, commissions could be asking a more pertinent question. “No one’s asking, ‘how busy are you?’” he said.
Dugatkin pointed out that the small division can handle sometimes 150 to 200 cases per year -- anything from petty larceny to violent crimes like rape or a stabbing. While beat cops look at one case at a time, detectives look for patterns, similarities across many different crimes, including those that happen out of town or even in another state. They work closely with the district attorney, putting together what they hope will be solid cases into which a defense lawyer can’t punch holes. In New Paltz, the division also leads the crime scene investigators, working with the people lifting prints to make sure it is done in a way that will stand up in court.
They also have to review, relearn and brush up on cases from the past, making sure they’re ready to stand before a grand jury. In part, that means knowing where witnesses are and how to contact them -- even two or three years after the fact -- and subpoena them to appear in court.
“All along, I have to keep the case fresh. I have to know where all the victims are,” Detective Sgt. Dugatkin said.
The two investigators also have the duty of keeping important evidence protected, locked up and safe from tampering -- such as photographs, DNA samples and audio recordings, which are kept in a safe and must go through a careful protocol.
Before getting promoted to lieutenant and eventually chief, Snyder had worked in the Detective Division too.
“When you become a detective, your outlook as a police officer changes,” he said. Because of their workings with the DA, detectives in New Paltz also tend to serve as mentors to beat cops. If a cop needs to know how to deal with evidence in a way that will hold up in court, they lean on the Detective Division.
“We get calls all the time at home,” the top detective explained.
In terms of salary, the detectives get an extra stipend on top of normal officer or sergeant pay. For instance, a topped-out officer would make about $60,000 a year in the NPPD. A detective who has topped out gets $61,700 and the detective sergeant gets $65,400.
For that reason, the commissioners had isolated the division as a heavy spender.
“Supervising one person, I think, is just silly,” Commissioner Ira Margolis said.
The police chief took offense to that remark, pointing out the amount of time the detectives spend coaching the beat cops and other officers.
Commissioner Randall Leverette put it this way: “The Police Department is one of our biggest expenses.”
Chief Snyder said the commission was, in effect, trying to micromanage his department -- even when he had the clear authority to promote a sergeant from within to lead the Detective Division. The town’s budget for the year gives the chief a maximum dollar count he has to abide by, but his plan to promote from within would create an approximate $30,000 in savings, he said.
Police Commission Chairman Justin Finnegan denied that they were getting too involved with the hiring and firing of the department. “My intention is not to micromanage your department,” he said.
However, the commissioners also said they felt that town law was vague about how much power or authority to coach or directly influence the police chief on hiring they had. They asked the Town Board members to clarify their true role as a subcommittee.
If the change does happen the way the chief wants, an existing police sergeant would step into the top slot at the Detective Division, an experienced cop would make sergeant to replace the newly minted detective sergeant, and a new rookie would come in at the bottom of the ranks.
In the end and after more than three hours of discussion at the one-agenda-item special meeting, the commission and Chief Snyder came to a compromise. Until the Town Board clarifies the powers of the Police Commission, the chief can interview candidates to become the detective sergeant but he cannot hire a new rookie.
Town Board politics helped
shape Detective Division debate
Throughout May 31’s special meeting, a number of special guests made appearances, including town Supervisor Toni Hokanson and Councilwoman Kitty Brown. Councilman David Lewis also attended the meeting, but was supposed to be there since he’s the liaison to the Police Commission.
A fourth Town Board member -- Jeff Logan -- threw his weight around, pressing for his favored outcome via e-mail.
“I will ask as a member of the Town Board that you do not fill the position of detective in any form until the Town Board can meet and discuss and hear the recommendations of the Police Commission,” he wrote. “This discussion would also include the opportunity to work on the largest item in our budget, and I urge you to attend one of the information sessions on the efficiency study and see that we need to reduce expenses by five percent to ten percent to make consolidation a fiscal reality.”
Logan’s e-mail and a long list of e-mails between Town Board members and the chief were leaked to this newspaper by the councilman and Councilwoman Brown. The information is not privileged or secret, but it would normally take a formal Freedom of Information request to obtain it.
The councilman also pointed out that the Police Commission seems to have authority in promotions within the department according to one section of the law.
According to town law, the Police Commission is meant to “approve the promotions of employees and commissioned officers upon recommendation of the chief of police, who shall keep a complete service record of each member of the department in accordance with applicable civil service rules.”
Chief Snyder seemed confused about why the e-mail chain had been leaked to the press.
“P.S. Why are we including the local newspaper in your e-mail? Just asking,” the chief wrote back on June 1.
Again while the information is FOIL-able because it was sent to official Town of New Paltz e-mail addresses, including those of the supervisor and deputy supervisor, Chief Synder is pointing out what amounts to a breach of etiquette.
Board members Brown and Logan have united in a voting bloc that consistently opposes almost anything brought to the table by Supervisor Hokanson. Hokanson usually gets a supporting vote from Deputy Supervisor Jane Ann Williams. Councilman David Lewis often acts as a wild card, tie-breaking vote.
Perhaps because of the Police Commission’s nature as a board populated 100 percent by political appointees, it highlights the political struggles going on right now in New Paltz.
Police Commissioner Leverette started out as a critic watching NPPD spending from the outside looking in, but eventually decided to put his hat into the ring for an appointment.
At one point in the special meeting last week, the police chief said Leverette only had a seat on the commission because he was favored by Councilwoman Brown. Chief Synder, on the other hand, has enjoyed the support of and been defended in public by the town supervisor.
The regular meeting of the Police Commission will be held this Thursday, June 9, 7 p.m., at Town Hall.