Saratoga Spring residents and officials have mixed feelings about the city police department’s announcement that it will be increasing patrols in the downtown area.
On Friday, Saratoga Springs Police Chief Shane Crooks announced a new partnership with the county sheriff’s department and state police to have more patrols downtown to handle the larger crowds expected over the next couple of months as the track opens up, more tourists begin visiting and the number of weekend events taking place increases.
Crook’s announcement was made in response to a June 26 brawl that led to a stabbing and shots fired.
In a press conference held on June 28 regarding that incident, Assistant Chief John Catone not only said that gangs from Albany were to blame, but also confronted what he described as an anti-police narrative that he believes has emanated from local politicians, activists and emboldened criminals.
However, some residents said they didn’t feel the increased police presence downtown is necessary.
Skidmore College students Kate Stacks and Margaret Brown said they’ve been living in the area for about two years, often visiting the downtown area and don’t feel like there has been an uptick in violence.
“It’s been busy, but it just felt like Saratoga in the summer,” Brown said.
They said they both felt safe walking around Saratoga.
Stacks also said it’s a bit excessive to have more cops patrolling the area if it’s essentially for crowd control.
The two women said they also both strongly advocate for defunding the police and having more money be used toward other community resources.
Officials also had different perspectives on the recent announcement.
“I think we need to look at what’s causing it,” said Saratoga County Board of Supervisors member Tara Gaston, a democrat representing Saratoga Springs.
She said people in the health industry sort of expected this as more people leave home after being cooped up for months because of the pandemic.
“We have people that have gone through a collective trauma,” she said, noting that causes people to be angry, upset and participate in activities like over-consumption of alcohol.
She also said that as a member of the Board of Supervisors she has not seen any details related to the agreement and questioned exactly how it would work and what financial impact there could be.
Sheriff Michael Zurlo couldn’t be reached for comment.
In past years, agreements with municipalities or other agencies have come before the board, she said.
“Any partnership needs to take place very carefully,” Gaston said.
She said there has been some tension with the sheriff’s department following the department’s response to Black Live Matter protests last year and the use of a large armored vehicle called an “MRAP.” She said she definitely doesn’t want to see that patrolling downtown.
Gaston’s Republican counterpart Matthew Veitch, said he believes the city and sheriff’s department have had an agreement in place for years to help each other when needed.
“This is no different except it is basically asking for that increased level of assistance over the entire summer,” he said. “I think having more police available is necessary at the current time given the elevated level of incidents occurring in the city.”
He plans to support the departments whatever way he can, he said.
Veitch said an increased police presence “keeps these incidents from escalating into more serious crimes.”
“As a lifelong resident of Saratoga Springs, I want my city to be a welcoming and safe place for both residents and visitors, but also to be a place where those who would come here just to cause trouble are dealt with swiftly and appropriately,” he said.
The two candidates running for Public Safety Commissioner also had differing opinions about the partnerships.
Tracey LaBelle said she stands behind the department’s decision for more patrols.
“The uptick in violence in recent years, especially this year, along with the lack of respect for authority and the fear the police narrative has placed an incredible stress and strain on our city police department,” she said. “I have full confidence in chief Crooks and assistant chief Catone and the Saratoga Springs Police Department to work within this new partnership to protect our city from violence, agitators and those with complete disrespect for the law.”
She said the increased patrols will give residents peace of mind.
However, state crime index numbers, which are reported by departments using the FBI’s uniform crime reporting system, shows that overall crime numbers in Saratoga have remained relatively the same between 2016 and 2021 fluctuating between 591 crimes in 2016 and 502 in 2020. Of the crimes in 2016, 64 were violent crimes and in 2020 there were 53 violent crimes.
No statistics for 2021 have been released and Crooks could not be reached for comment on the number of crimes so far this year.
Public safety commissoner candidate James Montagnino said some additional officers are expected for this time of year when there are more people visiting the area.
“What’s nonsensical is how we whipsawed between no police on Caroline Street a week ago to a massive surge in presence all around now,” he said. “This bespeaks a total lack of advanced planning. In years past, there were bicycle patrols, mounted cops and patrol cars downtown on weekend nights. There has been no explanation for all of this having evaporated.”