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Police critique Valatie neighborhood watch

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VALATIE – Members of the village neighborhood watch group held an informational meeting at Barnwell Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Thursday, March 10 to discuss their progress and talk about preparing for the crime that comes with warmer weather. Representatives from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and the State Police attended the meeting as well as most of the village trustees and a few village residents.

Adam Sinacore, owner of Sinacore’s Main Street Tavern in Valatie, was one of the few business owners who attended. Mr. Sinacore talked to the police about issue he sees on Main Street and at his bar. The new sheriff’s satellite office is in the American Legion Hall across the street from bar, and there are cameras on Main Street monitored by law enforcement and village officials.

The turnout for the meeting Thursday was low compared the regular monthly neighborhood watch meetings, where around a dozen village residents meet with Deputy Sheriff Wendy Guntert  to go over the crimes that have been committed in the area and discuss issues. Those meetings are held once a month on Thursdays; the next one will be March 24 at 7 p.m. at Barnwell.

Deputy Guntert said that the Valatie Village Watch was the only active neighborhood watch group in the county. It was created after a string of burglaries last summer that had residents concerned for their safety. The board and the Sheriff’s Office organized an organizational meeting in June at Barnwell, which Deputy Guntert described as “mobbed.”

“This is actually a good sign,” said Mayor Gary Strevell of the low turnout at the March 10 meeting; only seven residents attended, including village trustees. He said that the people who packed the Barnwell common room 10 months ago at the original meeting must be happy with what the neighborhood watch is doing. “Everybody feels save,” said Trustee Philip Bickerton, who attended the meeting.

Deputy Guntert said that crime is down in the village and that law enforcement is seeing mostly petty crime and domestic issues, though she did say someone was arrested in the village that morning for attempted burglary. The watch group is focusing on is traffic issues as the weather gets nicer and more people are outside. The group is making the crosswalks clearer and considering whether the village needs to hire a traffic and parking enforcement officer.

She warned that neighborhood watches get started when there are issues and then people lose interest as issues get resolved. She said the group is “trying as a neighborhood watch to be more proactive,” and she emphasized stressed again that people need to call 911 if they have something to report.

Police officers at the meeting talked about budget cuts. The representatives from the State Police said that resources are squeezed at this point but they would use them to the best of their abilities. From the state trooper substation in Kinderhook two officers are responsible for two villages and six towns on the overnight shifts. The Sheriff’s Office satellite in the village is only staffed during the day, though officers can use it on the night shirts. “Valatie is probably better covered,” said State Police Investigator Eric Barnes, comparing the village to other nearby municipalities. Valatie has several 24-hour convenience stores that officers check on throughout the night. When asked about having a foot patrol in the village, officers said that would be hard with budget cuts.

Mr. Sinacore, the bar owner, asked about having more cameras on Main Street as well as the foot patrol, but he was told that the village could not afford to buy more at this time. He also discussed law enforcement issues he’s seen around his bar. “If there is anything more I can do, I’ll do it,” he said.

Inv. Barnes said lighting was a huge issue in alleyways. The bar closes at 2 a.m., which the police also appreciate knowing. Mr. Sinacore said that anyone outside his bar with a can of beer did not get it at his bar.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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