Langley and captains discuss drugs, drones and trust

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

In a “town hall” meeting in Cold Spring on Oct. 11, Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley and his undersheriff and five captains discussed drugs, dogs, drones, chain saws — and trust.

Langley, a Garrison resident, was elected a year ago, defeating Don Smith, who had held the office since 2002. About 35 residents attended the meeting to hear the officers respond to written questions.

Drug enforcement

The abuse of opioids and other narcotics is a continuing challenge for law enforcement, said Capt. Jon Jennings, who heads the sheriff’s criminal investigations bureau. He said that while the department traditionally regarded overdoses as emergency service calls or unattended deaths, it now also investigates them as crime scenes. “Our intention is to go after the person who supplied it,” he said. “It’s a complex problem with no great answers.”

The law enforcement line-up at the Sheriff’s Department “town hall” on Oct. 11 in Cold Spring, from left: Larry Burke of the Cold Spring police, Kevin Cheverko, Jon Jennings, James Babcock, Robert Langley, Michael Corrigan, Lisa Ortolano and Harry Tompkins. (Photo by Lydia JA Langley)

Capt. Kevin Cheverko, who oversees the county jail, noted that “80 percent of the jail population is there on drug charges or drug-related charges,” such as stealing. Inmates often suffer from mental illness or homelessness, he said, and “jails become the safety net. It’s a huge problem and we have to be creative.”

The department recently received a $156,000 state grant for anti-addiction programs, including efforts to help inmates continue treatment once released, he noted.

Dogged detectives

Capt. Harry Tompkins, the patrol supervisor, said the department’s six dogs are “the stars of the show, in most cases.” The K-9 officers can detect black powder, munitions, narcotics and accelerants used in arsons, as well as trail suspects.

And the dogs specialize, Tompkins said. For example, the department’s bloodhound concentrates on tracking, while two German shepherds do tracking and drug detection. Whatever their role, each has “a great following,” he said.

Drone patrol

Capt. James Babcock, who handles operations, said the department recently acquired a powerful drone, whose functions “are endless. It’s going to be an awesome asset for us” to find lost hikers, locate a property, reconstruct an accident or crime, and for surveillance before serving a warrant. The drone will also be used to assist local police and firefighters, he said.

Henry Foley-Hedlund chats with Capt. Jon Jennings at the Old VFW Hall. (Photo by Lydia JA Langley)

Chain saws

With a drone in hand, the department has another hot item on its wish list, Tompkins said. “Most patrol cars don’t come equipped with chain saws,” he noted, but they’re invaluable for some rescues and other incidents, he said.

Further, the department wants to create an emergency services unit, conduct training with fire departments and other agencies, and generally become more versatile in crises. “It will just bring a better service to the people of Putnam County,” he said.

The feds

Tompkins, Undersheriff Michael Corrigan and Jennings, a former FBI agent, said the Sheriff’s Department has excellent relationships with state and federal law enforcement agencies. Corrigan observed that “crime knows no borders. We can pick up the phone and call anybody any time in any country to help us.” He added: “It’s a two-way street.”

Community trust

The Sheriff’s Department personnel and Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke of the Cold Spring Police Department, who also responded to questions, emphasized the importance of building trust with the community. Their strategies include having school resource officers (SROs), who are sheriff’s deputies on duty at public schools, become friendly and familiar to students, Langley said.

Putnam County Sheriff
845-225-4300 |

Robert Langley Jr., Sheriff

Michael Corrigan, Undersheriff

James Babcock, Captain – Operations

Kevin Cheverko, Captain – Corrections

Jon Jennings, Captain – Criminal Investigations

Lisa Ortolano, Captain – Civil Division

Harry Tompkins, Captain – Patrol

“You can’t underestimate the relationship cultivated” with SROs, Corrigan added. “These relationships become so trusting that there are many times” when a student will confide information about another child who has suffered physical abuse, or considered suicide or engaged in harmful behavior. The SRO can intervene, while shielding the student who spoke up, Corrigan said. “We don’t want anyone to be sorry they came to us.”

At the Cold Spring Police Department, part of building trust means “it’s back to community policing for my guys,” Burke said. “It’s more uniforms out there, and more communications,” especially during tourism season. “It’s more for the community, more for the visitors, more for the residents.”

Praising the Sheriff’s Department as a terrific partner, Burke mentioned their common motivation — they’re all cops. “We do this because we love it,” he said. “This is what we give to you guys [the public]. It’s not a job. It’s what we were born to do.”

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government

One reply on “Putnam Sheriff Holds ‘Town Hall’”

  1. Why do we still have county sheriffs in this country? In all the world, the county sheriff is the only elected law enforcement officer. Politics on the one hand, and professional law enforcement, public safety, the power of arrest and the power to coerce, on the other, should be completely separate. Not to mention the fact that this office is redundant and overlaps (in the vast bulk of the country) with multiple other law enforcement agencies, causing a huge, unnecessary taxpayer expense. I say, get rid of it in all but the most sparsely populated counties.

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