PLATTSBURGH — City of Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest believes the city’s police department has turned a corner.
Marred by a lengthy search for a permanent chief of police, now one year out since it started, along with accusations of politicization by an outgoing lieutenant, shortages that led to extended periods of mandated overtime and two excessive force lawsuits settling in the past year, Rosenquest said the department can now work toward modernizing itself.
“We have definitely turned the page on a lot of the historical concerns we’ve heard,” Rosenquest said. “Former chiefs of police pulling strings, running the show. Rumored or not, that is no longer part of the conversations we’re having about our police department.”
Instead, he said the department is now discussing adding body cameras, phasing out tasers in favor of BolaWraps that shoot tethers instead of electric probes, and more.
“The whole point is we’re having these conversations, when before we weren’t having any of them, and I don’t think we could have, considering the state that department was in,” Rosenquest said.
An important component to getting to that point, Rosenquest said, was appointing an interim chief to lead the department while a permanent replacement is still in the works.
The police department was without a chief for 13 months before the city appointed retired Warren County Sheriff Nathan York as a provisional chief of police in February. Getting York in the department and filling the gaps in its ranks, Rosenquest said, gave it stability and direction.
“Things really did start to settle down. People started to understand what everybody’s role was,” he said.
At a city council meeting in February, when he announced his resignation, Lt. Darin Perrotte offered his opinion on the state of the department before York was. Addressing city councilors and the mayor, Perrotte sharply criticized Rosenquest’s management.
Perrotte claimed that efforts made by himself and Lt. Jarrod Trombley to improve the department were “squandered or sold as other ideas.”
“My departure has far more to do with the callous lies and mistruths being propagandized to further political agendas and serve as payback for past differences,” Perrotte said at the time.
But Rosenquest said that now, with a more stable department, there is an opportunity to change the department’s approach with a balance of public safety, officer wellness and community engagement.
To get there, the department will have to reintegrate itself back with the city and the community, Rosenquest said.
“There’s a perception – some true, some imagined – that the police department operates isolated on their own island,” he said. “And there are some cases where we found out that was the case.”
But that approach doesn’t align with modern day expectations, which demands transparency, Rosenquest said.
“I think there’s a balance there, but I think that’s the direction this department is going,” he said. “It’s much more incorporated into the day-to-day operation of the City of Plattsburgh.”
PICKING THE RIGHT CHIEF
To make those changes permanent, the city is looking to hire the right kind of chief.
“If we go back and appoint and hire somebody who is more of that ‘old school’ style of policing, then it’s a step backwards,” Rosenquest said. “Public safety is just as important as community engagement. If one lacks, it’s just not going to be structurally sound.”
After the mayor’s first candidate to fill the chief vacancy was rejected by the city’s Common Council, a new round in the search began. Rosenquest said the city has since narrowed its search to five candidates after a civil service exam was given in March.
The city is waiting on the state to release the results of that exam in June before it can make a permanent appointment.
‘A MAJOR RED FLAG’
Making a long-term culture shift also involves officer training, Rosenquest said.
From a survey among all cadets who recently graduated from the Zone 9 Academy in Plattsburgh, Rosenquest said most of the 10 cadets heading to the city’s police department ranked firearm training above community engagement and mental health response training.
“That’s a major red flag for us,” Rosenquest said. “We have to address that certainly before they go out. We have to understand what part of it they didn’t like. Why didn’t they like it? Was it the delivery? Was it the content? Was it the context under which it was delivered?”
Rosenquest said it’s critical for the city to address those issues before the recently graduated cadets, who are in field training currently, become sworn officers.
“There’s some deficiency in that training, some deficiency in that response, and we need to address that deficiency,” Rosenquest said. “Interacting when someone is having a mental health breakdown is just as important as pulling someone over and finding a gun in the car. How you respond to that is just as critical.”
Rosenquest said he believes the city has made the right moves to modernize its police department. Seeing the effects of those decisions will take time, he said.
“The proof is in the results,” Rosenquest said.
The Plattsburgh Police Local 812 union did not respond to requests for comment for this article.