This year's graduation weekend seemed louder than most -- I was awakened around 4:30 in the morning by the sounds of partying, partying so widespread that I couldn't even pinpoint its location. It's rare that I call in a noise complaint, but I didn't want to have to wait until past sunrise to get back to sleep, so I didn't see another option. I heard the police arrive and start using their amplification system to get the attention of the revelers, and the effect was like throwing water on an oil fire -- the kids got louder every time the cops spoke. It took awhile to settle them down.
I suppose I could have called the university police instead, but experience tells me that they would have kept me on the phone longer (I wasn't asked my name or specific address, just where the noise was), and they would have been less helpful. It's not that the men and women who work on that force are less professional, they just have zero obligation to respond to me, because they don't work for me. The town police do work for town residents, and the difference is striking.
Try this experiment, like I did a couple of years ago: identify an intersection that is patrolled by both town and SUNY police, and try to submit a FOIL request for data about arrests and traffic stops nearby. When I attempted this, the town police accepted my request, told me it could take up to seven days to process, and had my detailed report in less than two. Over at SUNY, I spent fifteen minutes on the phone with a sergeant who interrogated me about what I wanted the data for, tried to talk me out of it, and wouldn't even give up the identity of the information officer for the college. I was so aggravated that I submitted a written complaint about the SUNY officer, and a written compliment about the dispatcher to processed my request for the town.
The difference, of course, is that the town police has a citizen police commission, and five elected officials, overseeing it. SUNY cops have . . . some kind of structure, which goes up the line to the chancellor or the state police, but with no input from the community. Which might be fine, if they didn't patrol beyond the borders of the campus.
But the officers want to widen their jurisdiction even more, and statewide their union is holding communities hostage until the state legislature acts. Here in New Paltz, they are no longer helping out with parade detail, although apparently they will still be handing out speeding tickets off-campus. I imagine that's a money-maker for their department, while parades are not.
New Paltz Supervisor Susan Zimet is proud that she helped get the SUNY peace officers police powers some years ago. I think it was a terrible idea. We have a police force, entirely within the heart of our community, over which we have no control or oversight. I'm sure the situation is the same for many campuses around the state. I think it's time we lobby the state to change that.
Colleges don't need police, they need peace officers. Some municipalities need police, particularly ones with colleges, and those campuses should be paying the town or village (or state, when no local force exists) to provide police protection of their grounds. This would require a significant increase in our local police force, but it would be paid for by the college, and its existing officers could be folded into our present force.
SUNY New Paltz is a huge benefit to our community, but it comes at a price. They don't pay taxes. They don't have to ask for permission when they want to build. They don't have to participate in the community, and under the past president, the one who mused that the residents of a prison town don't expect to use those facilities so why should we expect access to the college, that participation was muted. That participation varies by administration, and that's a bigger problem. The problem of the police is simpler to understand: we should have local control, and towns and villages with their own departments should be lobbying together to take that control back.