Cold Spring officer: ‘We’re like the lost stepchildren’ of county
Larry Burke, the commanding officer of the Cold Spring Police Department, this week defended the three license-plate readers recently installed in Philipstown as vital in a resource-starved chunk of Putnam County.
“I’m not big on Big Brother,” he said, invoking the repressive, intrusive government envisioned by novelist George Orwell. But for a small force, having a license-plate reader “is like having an extra 10 or 15 cops out there,” he told the Nelsonville Village Board on Monday (Aug. 16).
He accused county officials of neglecting western Putnam and recalled pleading in Carmel for license-plate readers but encountering debate and delays. “I was over there for two years, begging them for any type of LPR or help over here,” he said. “The other side of the county has had them for years. We’re like the lost stepchildren. This side of the county is far behind in technology to help law enforcement.”
The wrangling ended in late 2020, allowing Cold Spring to buy three readers, funded by a grant from the Putnam County district attorney. The devices were installed last month on Main Street east of Peekskill Road in Nelsonville; on Route 9D near Little Stony Point, just beyond the Cold Spring border; and on Route 9D near Boscobel, about a half mile south of Cold Spring.
The cameras, larger versions of models installed in patrol cars, capture and store images of license plates.
“It’s a tool that’s great for law enforcement when something bad happens,” Burke said. “I don’t want to wait for something bad to happen and then turn around and say: ‘We should’ve gotten them.’ ”
He pointed out that “the crime rate is going up” in some areas and one regional criminal habit of thieves who apparently steal cars in Connecticut, and drive them to Cold Spring, where they steal different cars and commit other crimes.
“I could not stand idly by and let this go without trying, somehow, some way, to get these individuals,” Burke said. “If I could do this any other way, believe me, I would.”
He said equipment obtained with money from the district attorney can only be used for serious investigations, so the readers will not be employed to catch drivers who have unpaid tickets, for instance. He also said access to the data, which is transmitted to the Westchester/Putnam Real Time Crime Center, is limited and any request by an officer to see it must be approved by a superior.
Burke noted that three readers can help solve cases far beyond their location. For example, he said, in early August the readers near Little Stony Point and Boscobel captured the plate of a car that had been stolen in Poughkeepsie; the suspect was apprehended in Ossining.
The installation of the license-plate readers in Nelsonville and Philipstown caught local officials and residents by surprise. To get more information, the Nelsonville Village Board invited Burke to Monday’s meeting, held not far from the Nelsonville LPR.
“I want to extend my apologies for the quickness it went up,” Burke said. “It wasn’t meant to be done sneakily.” He said that in the three days after its installation, the Nelsonville reader captured 1,200 images, but none revealed a wanted vehicle.
Although Burke had proposed putting a reader near the Main Street traffic light in Cold Spring, the Sheriff’s Department advised placing them in spots to cover all exits and entrances to the villages. Burke asserted that career criminals avoid communities with readers.
At the Nelsonville meeting, Jim Knox, an attorney who formerly worked with Burke in New York City, said “we’re blessed to have Larry Burke as a police officer in our presence.” Nonetheless, he objected to “a camera staring at you as you walk out of your house. That’s an Orwellian nightmare. That’s communism. Communism is about control.”
Knox said he would have sued both villages if any officer besides Burke had led the effort to install the readers. “We need proof. We need evidence” that data collected won’t be abused, he said.
Heidi Wendel, a former federal prosecutor, said she supported the use of license-plate readers. “I don’t see the Orwellian aspect at all,” she said. “It’s just smart law enforcement. It makes us safer.”
Sales tax split
The Village Board added its voice to a call for Putnam County to share some of its sales tax boon with towns and villages,. Voting 5 to 0, it adopted a resolution nearly identical to the one Philipstown approved on Aug.5.
Both measures propose that Putnam give municipalities, collectively, 50 percent of the increase in sales tax revenue over the previous year, which would then be divided among towns and villages on a per capita basis.
According to materials from newly organized “Share the Growth” advocates, the proposal had been in place in 2019, Philipstown would have received $150,718; Cold Spring, $27,537; and Nelsonville, $10,208.
“It seems like a no-brainer,” said Trustee Chris Winward.