The New York State Police have appointed a 30-year veteran as Troop G commander. Albany native Captain Christopher West takes over for Major Robert Patnaude.
Troop G has 24 stations throughout Albany, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Washington, and Warren Counties.
WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Captain West about the current state of policing in the United States and why he wanted to become a law enforcement officer.
West: Well, I just think, early on, I just wanted to help people. And as I got older, you know, I still started gravitating toward that, that field. And once I went to college, I had a couple of professors and teachers that were in law enforcement involved as far as judges and prosecutors and just talking to them and being around a little bit more just piqued my interest even more. And like I said, just combine that with helping people with just a natural fit, I guess.
Levulis: As an Albany native, do you think knowledge of the greater Capital Region will help you as commander of Troop G?
West: Yes, I hope so. I mean, you know, having a lot of knowledge and knowing the area and knowing the people, I think is a big thing and just getting the appointment now I've had so many people reach out to me and offer to support and help out doing different things, especially right now with all the times we're dealing with. There's been so many people who want to reach out and help and I think that's going to help make my job a lot easier and help me be successful.
Levulis: Captain, you did mention the trying times with renewed and greater focus on law enforcement and racial justice in America. How do you see this moment in history as both a law enforcement officer and an African American?
West: That's interesting. You know, it's very trying times, as I've mentioned, and you know, as an African American, I think, you know, I've been through an awful lot and seen an awful lot of things happen and change, a lot of change for the better, but we still have a long way to go. Someone was just asking me the other day when I first came on job almost 30 years ago. We were going through the Rodney King incident out in California. And they said, Is this the same thing? Is this the same type of feeling? And I said, you know, to me, it just feels different. And I know a lot of other people feel the same way. It just feels different this time. We've had a lot of other things that have happened along the way, throughout the years. But I think it allowed people an opportunity to kind of pick aside or just stay in the middle and be silent. This time, it seems to be a lot of people who don't want to be silent and realize that, okay, we have to do something. We're all in this together. And I think we have so many people that are looking for a solution that is going to work out for the better and I think some good amount of come from this time.
Levulis: One of the police reforms recently passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo calls for New York State Troopers to wear body cameras in your law enforcement career captain, have you ever worn a body camera?
West: No, I've never worn a body camera and I know that's something that we're talking about now.
Levulis: Do you think, just in terms of your career, your experience, wearing a body camera for a police officer would adjust the approach to the job at all?
West: I don't know if it's going to necessarily change the approach if you're doing the right thing. I mean, I can't speak for a lot of other agencies. I know there's a lot of good people out there a lot of very good agencies. But the way we've been always taught as troopers if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, you don't have to worry about whether you have a body camera on or if someone else is filming you from afar. You just go out there and do your job to the best of your abilities. Follow the laws as they're written, and you'll be okay.
Levulis: Captain, part of this renewed focus on policing there have been calls to defund the police and part of that argument considers efforts that are currently being carried out by law enforcement that instead might be better handled by other agencies or social service sector. Are there any programs or efforts of the New York State Police that you think might be better handled by another organization?
West: I know, as an agency, we are constantly looking to improve. You know, our one of our core values is continuous learning and improvement. So we're always looking to, you know, to stay on top of the learning curve and be right on the cutting edge of new technology or different things that are going to make our jobs easier, and help keep our people safe and the people we serve safe. So you know, that being said, I think that, you know, as far as pending legislation, I can't really comment on that stuff. But any other thing that's going to help make us do our jobs better? We're all for.
Levulis: There have also been calls to abolish some police departments. Now, there are some towns in New York that already do not have their own dedicated department and instead rely on the New York State Police for law enforcement duties and coverage. In your mind, could the state police handle more situations like that if communities move to abolish or reduce their police departments?
West: Well, it would be hard to just give a blanket statement and say, you know, cover all their certain areas. But certainly there's some areas that we probably could easily pick up and there's others that would require, you know, more personnel and or funding. So I guess it would depend on an individual area of responsibility.
Levulis: Captain, does the New York State Police use chokeholds?
West: No, we, the New York State Police, we don't teach chokeholds All right, we follow the laws and legislation. Our strategies and techniques allow for us to use restraints that gain compliance from a combative or unruly subject. And once we gain that compliance, it's released. And it's not intended to inflict injury or long term pain or suffering or anything like that. And I can say in my almost 30 years and October will be 30 years. I can't think of a single instance where anyone using different Strain has caused serious physical injury or death to a person that I can recall.
Levulis: Captain, earlier you mentioned the New York State Police is always looking at new technologies, new ways to operate. What is the state police's approach to the overall increase in cybercrime as increasingly our daily lives go digital?
West: Well, I'm not in the cybercrime unit, of course, but I know that over the years it is grown greatly and we have a lot of people who have gravitated toward that and it's, it's, you know, one of the things that's, you know, certainly growing as we speak as far as cybercrime and different things with technology and electronics and things like that, and I know that our units that oversee those particular areas have also grown with them as well.
Levulis: Captain West, what are some of your hopes and goals as you are now the leader of Troop G?
West: Well, I hope To get out into the community a little bit more especially being from here, I'd like to get out and get with some of the other organizations and people like I mentioned early on at the top, that, you know, being from here, so many people have reached out to me and offered to help out and looking for ways to join up with us and just be a part of something positive, and help me and my staff out. So I want to certainly tap into them and my staff and see what we can do in order to bring us all together and just reach the youth. I mean, the youth I think are the key. And I think if we just reach the young people early on, we can maybe put them on the right path and even give a lot of them a path of selection toward law enforcement.
Levulis: And Captain how has the coronavirus pandemic impacted Troop G? Obviously, from my standpoint, policing cannot always be a socially disconnected activity. How has it impacted day-to-day operations?
West: We've had to make a lot of changes, I think as far as with day to day operations and how we police, you know, everything from mask and, you know, frequent washing of hands or even more frequently washing of hands and socially distancing and doing different things as far as our training and other things where now we can't do as many people at one time, some of the training has to be put on hold. But I think overall, our services to the community hasn't really been impacted, but we certainly have had to make some changes in order to adjust to it. Also to the health of the force to been able to maintain a healthy numbers and healthy members as well. Yes, we have I don't know the exact number of people that we've had that have come down with positive tests. But I do believe at this time every single person that has been tested positive has returned back to duty full and strenuous.