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Saratoga Springs’ move to defund Assistant Chief role to boost patrol officers meets opposition

A still of police body camera footage depicting one of the alleged shooters on the sidewalk on Broadway following Sunday's early morning shooting in Saratoga Springs
City of Saratoga Springs Police Department video uploaded to YouTube
Image capture by WAMC
An entrance to the Saratoga Springs Police Department

Democrats who control the Saratoga Springs City Council have approved a plan intended to address late-night violence by increasing police patrol numbers. But the elimination of the police department’s Assistant Chief position is drawing sharp criticism from police supporters.

On Tuesday, after describing recent alcohol-fueled violence and the police department’s thwarting of a potential mass-shooting, Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino introduced a measure to reallocate resources within SSPD.

“The Patrol Division Increase Initiative is a multi-phase program that’s intended to get as many police officers on the street in the places and at the times when they’re most needed, and to decrease the amount of duplicative effort and the amount of unnecessary bureaucracy that may currently exist,” said Montagnino.

The first phase of the effort defunds the position of Assistant Chief and directs the money toward funding a sergeant’s position and an additional patrol officer.

Assistant Chief Robert Jillson, who has been in the job for three months, will be demoted back to his previous rank of Lieutenant. Jillson has also served as the city’s public information officer.

With the summer tourism season approaching, Montagnino framed the effort as a way to increase the safety of residents and visitors by adding patrol officers, particularly on weekends.

“We anticipate and hope that this will be the busiest summer season that the city has ever seen and we need as many police officers as possible to be available to keep the city safe,” said Montagnino.

The resolution that received the support of other Democrats elected in November was praised by Mayor Ron Kim, a former city Public Safety Commissioner.

“We need those sergeants on the streets so I commend you for doing this,” said Kim. “I think it’s always a tough decision…”

Criticisms of the council’s action ramped up Wednesday.

The Saratoga Springs Police Benevolent Association called the decision “extremely disappointing” on Facebook.

It asks rhetorically:

“Who wants to work for a department that is announcing that they would like to promote from outside the agency and not reward officers who are currently working hard here now with a promotion? Who wants to work for a department that will just decide in a meeting that they are going to suddenly demote you?”

Former Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who appointed Jillson to Assistant Chief in December days before Montagnino’s swearing in, called the decision “completely asinine” and echoed the PBA’s concerns.

“The effect that has on morale, the effect that has on our ability to operate as a department, it’s catastrophic,” said Dalton.

Reached by WAMC Wednesday, Jillson said he is disappointed but respects the council’s decision.

Though no jobs are being eliminated in the move, Jillson said one lieutenant would be demoted back to sergeant, and that he has reached out those affected by the change.

Jillson declined to speak on tape but said the police department would continue to meet the needs of the people of Saratoga Springs.

Montagnino said the change is being made in part due to overlap in responsibilities between the Chief and Assistant Chief positions.

“There are an excess number of administrators in the department whose jobs are often duplicative or whose abilities are being used to the fullest because they’re not out there protecting the people,” said Montagnino.

Montagnino dismissed the PBA’s suggestion that the move to defund the Assistant Chief’s position is “personal.”

“There’s nothing personal about it.”

Republican New York State Senator Daphne Jordan of the 43rd district issued a statement saying she had many concerns and questions about the move. She added:

“I urge the City Council to keep its promise and have more officers protecting and serving the citizens of Saratoga Springs. Time will tell and we will be watching."

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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