Saratoga Springs police officials on Monday said they suspect gangs with connections to Albany were involved in a large brawl that broke out early Saturday morning on Caroline Street and promised to boost police presence downtown.
The fight, which involved 15 to 20 people, resulted in a stabbing and gunshots were fired, according to police. No arrests had been made as of Monday afternoon, but Saratoga police officials said they had identified “people of interest” and recovered the gun they believe had been discharged during the fight.
At a press conference Monday morning, Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton and police and fire department officials promised to boost their downtown presence as the busy summer season continues, but they also said they may not have the staffing levels needed to handle an apparent surge in violent incidents.
Assistant Police Chief John Catone said the department was coordinating with the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department and state police to plan out how to manage large crowds expected over the coming months as the Saratoga Race Course and Saratoga Performing Arts Center reopen along with bars and restaurants in the city. He said the past couple of weekends resemble the kinds of crowds usually only seen on Travers weekend, typically the busiest race weekend of the summer. The police planned to staff accordingly, he said, while also acknowledging staffing limitations present for all the different agencies.
“We are going to saturate the downtown area with as much of a police presence as we can support,” Catone said at the press conference.
Catone also confronted what he described as an anti-police narrative that he said has emanated from local politicians and activists and emboldened criminals. He and Lt. Bob Jillson, head of the Saratoga detectives unit, also cited legislative changes like bail reform and raising the age for certain felony crimes as making it harder to arrest criminals.
Noting that he was “pissed off,” Catone said some local politicians on platforms that painted the police as racist, and he promised to fight back against that claim as strongly as he possibly could.
“Promoting such a narrative does nothing more than erode the relationship of the police and community,” Catone said.
He called on the broader community to support the police.
“It is time for the silent majority we have heard so much about to stand up and be heard,” Catone said. “We are not a hateful community, we are not a racist police department. You are either with us or you are not, and if you are not, you are part of the problem.”
Dalton also called for more community support, urging people to report incidents and calling on local businesses to register surveillance cameras with the city for police to use in the event of an investigation.
“I’m outraged by the recent violence and the community should be outraged as well,” Dalton said.
Noting that there has been much turnover in bar ownership in recent years, Dalton said she was working to facilitate better communication among bar owners downtown – so bars can notify other bars about troublesome customers – and said they need to take responsibility for not overserving crowds.
“Bar and nightlife (venue) owners must take some responsibility for the crowds they are serving,” Dalton said.
Dalton and Catone highlighted the police department’s staffing levels – 67 officers – and argued that the staff is not high enough to manage the public safety challenges in the city. Dalton said she would like to see the city hire another 20 police officers in the coming years.
But staffing is likely to continue to be a problem this summer, the officials said.
The department was approved to make three new hires last month, Dalton said, but those new recruits likely won’t start until next spring after making their way through the training academy. The department is looking to get approved to make lateral hires from other departments to start sooner than that but officials did not say how many positions could be filled that way.
“We are not over policing at all, that’s just an out-and-out lie,” Catone said as he fought back against some community members who think city police are too active.
Saturday night’s fight and stabbing came after reports that teenagers have been randomly assaulted by other youth while walking through Congress Park. Jillson said police were “making progress” in investigating the Congress Park assaults and suggested arrests could be possible soon. The assaults were not suspected to be connected to the weekend fight and stabbing.
The Saratoga police officials said they have worked with the Albany police gang unit, as well as state police, and identified “people of interest” in connection to the weekend fight and stabbing. The police officials said they think that gang members come to Albany to sell drugs at a higher cost than other areas. Catone said that some people on recent weekends have verbally confronted police officers and promised that they would “be back next week with more people.”
“That’s ok, so will we,” Catone said, referring to an increased police presence in Saratoga.