If your goal is to bring people together to benefit the greater good, there are better alternatives than holding a whiny, defensive, politically charged, accusation-filled, anti-free-speech, subliminally racist news conference.
But that’s what Saratoga Springs Assistant Police Chief John Catone and Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton opted for last Monday as their approach to addressing unruly crowds in the heart of the city’s bar district, an event that went off the rails into a tirade over state and local laws, political positions, and public protests against police violence and racism that offered plenty of finger-pointing but few solutions.
To recap, Catone and Dalton took it upon themselves to address the problems on Caroline Street, including a recent incident involving a couple dozen people in which a bar patron was stabbed and gunshots were fired.
They said the usual things about the need for a greater police presence and the need for bar owners to do more.
But none of the issues they were bringing up were anything new for the popular city. And the solutions they offered were practically nonexistent.
For as long as anyone who’s ever gone to Saratoga during the summer can remember, city police have had to contend with large, misbehaved, drunken crowds, fighting, drugs and even occasions of serious violence.
What police saw last weekend, they’ve seen a thousand times over hundreds of weekends.
If the assistant chief’s goal was to nip this summer’s problems in the bud by offering his many years of experience and expertise for potential solutions, he didn’t hit his mark.
In fact, he made it appear as if city police were fearful and unprepared for this summer’s annual onslaught of bar activity, and were looking for excuses in advance as to why they wouldn’t be able to handle it.
There’s a potential this year for a much busier summer thanks to pent-up energy from the pandemic and the return of crowds to the track and SPAC. Citizens will need police to bring their A-game.
The news conference went off on a tangent, in which Catone criticized an anti-police narrative he blamed on local politicians and activities he said emboldened criminals.
The head of the Saratoga Springs Detective Unit, Lt. Bob Jillson, said legislative changes such as bail reform and raising the age of accountability were making it more difficult to arrest criminals.
Those were odd choices to bring up at this event.
Bail reform and raising the age of criminal responsibility might make it more difficult to detain suspected criminals, but how does it make it harder for police to pull them out of a raucous bar crowd and arrest them?
Officials at the news conference also said, without presenting evidence, that they suspected gangs with connections to Albany were involved in the weekend’s brawl and that thugs were empowered by police reform advocates, hoping to provoke police into an action that they could then turn to accusations of racism.
Again, how is what happened over the weekend any different than what happens on any other weekend? How is this crowd different than any other?
And what benefit is there to creating new straw men — citizen activists exercising their First Amendment rights and out-of-town gangs (implication: minorities) — to take the blame for problems we’ve all seen before?
Not only does that not help, it drives an even bigger wedge between police and citizens, and makes the challenge of a unified response to problems even more difficult.
Before this gets any more out of hand, maybe it’s time for a new meeting of the minds — police, patrons, bar owners, public officials, prosecutors — to come together and address the actual sources of the problems, and come up with real solutions.
Maybe the city does need to allocate more resources to boost the police force. Maybe there needs to be more cooperation between police agencies in sharing personnel, resources and intelligence.
In fact, Police Chief Shane Crooks announced such an arrangement with other agencies on Friday. Kudos for actually addressing the manpower concerns.
Maybe the city needs to revisit closing the bars earlier to help disperse the crowds before they become too drunk and unruly.
Maybe they need a curfew.
Maybe business owners need to bring in more security and be more vigilant in enforcing the rules.
Who knows? Maybe this time, someone will come up with more effective solutions to the same problems the city experiences every summer.
But we know one thing for sure: The approach of divide, blame and complain won’t be one of them.