February 20, 2009
City police cut down on drug arrests
Fewer arrests attributed to targeted patrols on specific neighborhoods
While drug-related crimes are not the most common in Cortland, police say that smaller offenses can often be linked to drug trafficking.
City police made 101 drug arrests in 2008, 27 fewer than in 2007, which City Police Chief James Nichols believes is a sign of successful enforcement.
“Our main priority is maintaining the quality of life we have,” Nichols said. “Within that framework, drug enforcement is a high priority.”
The challenge to drug enforcement is that investigations take more time to develop and incidents are most often relayed to police through tips or informants, he said.
Nichols said city police have worked to keep drugs at bay in recent years and made progress within the city, but often property thefts in the city can be traced to Syracuse, where items are traded for cocaine or even heroine.
“People need to get the money for cocaine from somewhere,” he said.
He would not cite particular instances, but said it has been common in recent years.
This has made it even more important to target smaller offenses before they escalate, he added.
Nichols said concentrated patrols near south Main Street, where problems such as drug sales have been more prevalent, have allowed for spotting more crimes, as opposed to random patrol routes. Putting more frequent patrols in locations where disturbances are common, such as near the college, has also proven effective in spotting more incidents, he said.
In 2004, city police, State Police, SUNY Cortland University Police, and the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department began an aggressive drug enforcement program.
There were 102 reports of illegal drug use and sales in 2004, many of which were on south Main Street, Nichols said. Out of those, the Drug Task Force netted 76 arrests.
Reported incidents of drug activity dropped significantly in 2008 from 129 to 57. Police were unable to reverse the trend for years before the task force, but the numbers began reversing in 2005 with 70 reported incidents and 131 arrests.
Nichols said drug enforcement, which often results in multiple arrests for a single case, has changed because police are investigating more instead of just reacting to calls they receive about reported drug activity.
The most proactive enforcement measure taken in recent years is detecting patterns for smaller offenses, Nichols said.
When people see the officers around the neighborhood, there is more room for communication about potential problems, he added.
“When we get complaints to a certain location, if we sense a pattern, we’ll send an officer on foot or in a car to roam the neighborhood,” he said.
City police made 173 arrests for all felonies in 2008, compared to 146 in 2007. Arrests for misdemeanors rose from 468 in 2007 to 597 in 2008.
The most common felony arrest in 2007 was third-degree criminal possession of a weapon with 13 arrests. Criminal sale of narcotic drugs ranked close with 12 arrests.
Police made 16 burglary arrests in 2008, which topped the numbers for 2008. Police attributed it to a series of burglaries near student housing surrounding the college in 2008.
Petit larceny was the most common misdemeanor in 2007 and 2008, with 69 and 76 arrests, respectively. Endangering the welfare of a child, another top misdemeanor arrest, remains close with 44 arrests made in 2007 and 69 in 2008.
Arrests for violations have also been going up in recent years, with 1,440 in 2008. Although that is six less than 2007, police made 1,048 violation arrests in 2006.
Among the more frequent violations are disorderly conduct, harassment and open alcohol containers.
“I’m not sure what is a low priority,” Nichols said. “Any incident may reverberate throughout the community.”
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