Park Police crack down on area recreation spots
SARATOGA SPRINGS - For most people, the state parks
in Saratoga County mean concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts
Center, a picnic near Geyser Brook or swimming at Moreau Lake State
But according to statistics kept by the Department of Criminal Justice
Services, the parks are also the scene of drug use, drug dealing,
assaults, car thefts and even prostitution.
"That shows the park is a microcosm," said Maj. Steven
Rivenburgh, head of the state park police for the Capital-Saratoga
The state park police are one of 17 police agencies that patrol
Saratoga County. They are trained like city police or county sheriff's
deputies and have the same abilities and responsibilities. The state
Park Police Academy, held every two years in Oswego, also includes
units on marine law enforcement, snowmobile patrol and park rules and
Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III said that the
amount of crime handled by the park police, mostly at Saratoga Spa
State Park or Saratoga Lake, is tiny compared with the numbers of
people who visit the parks each year.
"It's remarkable," Murphy said of the job park police
According to Criminal Justice Services, state park police reported 258
criminal offenses in 2003 compared with 219 in 2002. That's a 17
percent increase in one year and an increase of more than 2˝ times
from 1999, when they reported just 71 crimes.
This happened while attendance dropped slightly at the three state
park facilities in Saratoga County during state fiscal year 2003-04.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic
Preservation said 950,000 people visit
ed Spa State Park last year, down from 1,070 in 2002-03 and 990,000 in
That's day-use statistics, which doesn't count people who just drive
through the Avenue of the Pines visit the Gideon Putnam Hotel and Spa
or the Saratoga Auto Museum.
State park police also have jurisdiction over the Grant's Cottage
State Historic Site in Wilton. The site is within the grounds of a
state prison, so they have little call to go there.
Rivenburgh also commands substations at Thatchter State Park in Albany
and Fort Crailo in the city of Rensselaer. The Fort Crailo site also
covers Grafton Lake State Park.
Numbers of offenses have been going up because police are doing a
better job ferreting out crime, Rivenburgh said. For instance,
drug-related arrests are up.
"We changed tactics," Rivenburgh said.
That means more undercover operations with officers in regular
clothing milling in the crowd.
"Police officers are just regular people," Rivenburgh said.
"When we are out of uniform, we look just like anybody
Murphy said state park police have also been working closely with
state police narcotics officers and city police.
Rivenburgh resumed the practice of bringing in park police officers
from other regions to bolster the park's regular contingent of police
during big SPAC shows.
"We open the parking lots later," he said. "We don't
want people tailgating or bringing kegs up here. Spa State Park has no
camping. I remember when the Grateful Dead was here in 1988, and we
had some campers to contend with."
He was an officer when the Jerry Garcia-led Grateful Dead visited in
1988. But he won't talk much about what has become a bit of a legend
in these parts.
"I remember that it was fun and that there was a big crowd,"
he said, cracking a smile.
The new incarnation of the band comes back to SPAC at the end of this
District Attorney Murphy said he hopes the Dead show is different than
the Phish farewell tour, which he deemed "a nightmare." The
most serious of many arrests involve two Watervliet men accused of
attacking a Toronto man and taking his backpack near the Peerless
Pool. Both are charged with second-degree robbery.
Park police are helping the Sheriff's Office in a related incident at
a Milton Stewart's Shop.
Rivenburgh won't say how many officers are assigned to Saratoga Spa
State Park and the other parks, citing "homeland security"
But the contingent, as of this year, no longer includes part-time
officers. State parks used to hire sheriff's deputies or local police
for the summer.
Now, state parks has a staff of rangers whom Rivenburgh describes as
"trained civilians." They patrol the parks unarmed but in
"They are our eyes and ears," he said. "That's a
program that came out of headquarters," Rivenburgh said, his only
way of explanation. "That was an initiative they sped up this
It's rangers who handle routine duties such as directing traffic at
SPAC and keeping an eye on Saratoga Spa State Park's dog park - on the
east side of Route 9 - to make sure owners aren't letting their dogs
romp off leashes through the Karner Blue butterfly habitat.
"We've had a lot of luck with verbal compliance," Rivenburgh
©The Saratogian 2004