During the 1990s, the New York State Police focused on three primary objectives: dealing with the rising tide of violent crime, much of it drug related; increasing cooperative ventures with local law enforcement agencies to more efficiently and effectively provide police services to the people of New York; and preparing for the challenges of the rapidly approaching 21st Century.
Superintendent James W. McMahon
In early 1994, Superintendent Thomas Constantine retired from the New York State Police to become the Administrator of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Deputy Superintendent James W. McMahon was appointed Superintendent by Governor Mario Cuomo on April 4, 1994. He was confirmed by the New York State Senate three days later.
Superintendent McMahon joined the New York State Police as a Trooper in 1966 and rose through the ranks to become the eleventh superintendent in the History of the State Police. During his distinguished career he served with several State Police Troops before being promoted to Division Headquarters in 1987, where he served as Staff Inspector, Assistant Deputy Superintendent for Planning and Research and became Deputy Superintendent/Field Commander in 1991.
On December 28, 1994, Governor George Pataki reappointed Superintendent McMahon to lead the Division and the Senate reconfirmed him on June 13, 1995.
January `98 Ice Storm
From Jan. 5-10, 1998, a rare convergence of weather systems stalled over northern New York, dropping up to ten inches of freezing rain on the Adirondacks and sheathing the entire region in a thick mantle of ice. Thousands of tree limbs sagged and snapped, ripping down utility lines as they fell. Steel high-tension towers and power poles collapsed under the weight, plunging more than 130,000 electric customers into the cold and dark. Roads became utterly impassable. For three weeks, virtually the entire north country lived in an eerie 19th century kind of existence. Without light, heat, power, fuel or transportation, the health and safety of innumerable home owners, farmers, elderly people, shut-ins, medical patients, infants, business people and travelers were imperiled.
As Governor Pataki declared an emergency and called for Federal Disaster Relief, the State Police swung into action. Personnel in Troops B and D worked twelve hour shifts. More than 900 Division employees ultimately were involved, many of whom had to leave their own homes and families without power. Troopers evacuated persons from freezing homes in shoreline areas threatened by flooding, escorted state, local, federal and private-sector emergency, rescue, utility and volunteer crews through hazardous areas and answered thousands of calls to locate stranded friends and isolated relatives. Division technicians helped restore radio communications throughout the region, and state police installations with auxiliary generators provided emergency shelter for those in dire need. These conditions prevailed until January 25 in Troop B, and in Troop D until January 27.
In the year and-a-half leading up to the new millennium, Division personnel worked closely with the Governor's Office For Technology to anticipate and address challenges posed by the "Year 2000 (or Y2K) problem," popularly known as the "Millennium Bug." Many experts predicted the Y2K problem would cause computers, software and technology containing embedded microchips to malfunction in the year 2000, owing to their inability to deal with two-digit date codes ending in "00."
The State Police began addressing its own Y2K-related issues well in advance of the end of the decade. It produced a Y2K preparedness assessment and implementation program for all Division installations, undertook the identification and necessary modification of State Police computer hardware and software systems at the Troop, Zone, Detail and Section levels, and worked to identify systems with embedded chips that might fail due to Y2K-incompatibility. A remediation plan for identified problems was completed early in 1999. Command and Supervisory personnel in each Troop were briefed, and a comprehensive plan developed for insuring that mission-critical systems and equipment were made Y2K-compliant. The Division also developed contingency plans to ensure State Police operations remained unimpaired by any possible Y2K-related infrastructure failures.
From July 21-26, 1999, the New York State Police maintained a detail in the Rome, New York, area for the Woodstock `99 music festival, held July 23-25. Approximately 540 members of the New York State Police were assigned to the detail.
More than 200,000 people attended Woodstock `99, which ran smoothly, with few arrests or other problems, until Sunday evening, when an outbreak of disorder occurred. Several large fires burned on the festival's interior grounds, a number of vendors trailers were looted and burned, and one motor vehicle was overturned. In response, the State Police recalled almost 150 Troop D members to duty, and 80 members from other Troops. Order was quickly restored, despite some concert-goers assaulting responding members and firefighters with bottles and debris. Concert attendees were safely removed from the site to camping and parking areas.
The investigation into identifying those responsible for the disorder and several reported sexual assaults continued for several months after the concert. In addition, the Division's website was used to solicit help from the public in identifying persons associated with the crimes and disorder during Woodstock `99.
During the 1990s, homicide became the second leading cause of death for Americans aged 15 to 20, and the leading cause of death among New York State males aged 14 to 24. Gunshots caused one in every four deaths among American teenagers. Because suppression of violent crime is a top priority of the New York State Police, the Division implemented a number of highly effective programs that specifically targeted murder, rape, robbery, and assault, the four offenses that comprise the generally accepted definition of "violent crime." The Bureau of Criminal Investigation, whose more than 900 Investigators and Senior Investigators handle all levels of felony crimes, incorporates most of the supplemental and specialized State Police programs that specifically target violent crime.
Violent Crime Investigation (VCI) Teams
While a significant portion of the violence was drug related, many especially vicious crimes, unrelated to drug trafficking, were reported to the Division in early 1990s. These included several serial homicides involving an astounding number of victims. In addition, numerous isolated crimes of violence prompted by greed, vengeance, sex and other motivating factors were reported with increasing frequency.
Faced with this challenge, the New York State Police began establishing Violent Crime Investigative (VCI) Teams in 1993 to work with local authorities investigating especially serious crimes of violence, particularly those that might be part of a pattern or an on-going series. VCI Teams provide highly skilled and experienced investigators from the State Police BCI to assist police agencies Statewide. The VCI Teams offer an effective response to increasing violent criminal activity, enhancing case solvability, and helping ensure the successful prosecution of violent criminals. These teams were expanded to all upstate Troops in 1995.
VCI Teams help Upstate communities investigate serious violent crimes including homicides, sexual assaults, abductions and serial crimes. The experienced violent crime investigators on the Teams respond to violent crime scenes, assist with investigations, improve solvability and facilitate prosecution. VCI Teams also facilitate access to the full resources of the State Police, including crime scene technicians, forensic specialists, the State Police Crime Laboratories, computer databases and crime analysts.
Initiatives Against Gun Violence
The New York State Police assists local law enforcement agencies with traces of firearms that are illegally possessed and/or used in a crime, develops criminal cases against illegal gun traffickers, maintains a central database of information on firearms seized or recovered in New York and known firearms law violators and shares information with agencies outside New York State, especially in states that are major sources of illegal firearms in New York, to stem the flow of illegal guns. In addition, the New York State Police expanded the role of its highly successful Community Narcotics Enforcement Teams to include undercover purchases of illegal firearms in conjunction with investigations of street level drug trafficking.
One of the most promising technologies in forensic science in recent years is the development of DNA typing. This procedure provides the possibility of identifying a criminal with a very high degree of certainty from physical evidence such as hair, blood or other physiological materials he/she leaves at the scene of the crime; it offers the capability to implicate or exonerate a suspect on the basis of only trace amounts of biological evidence. The most productive use of this technology is in the investigation and prosecution of crimes involving sexual assault and homicide.
The State Police moved vigorously to provide this technology to the State's criminal justice agencies through its Crime Laboratory System. Qualified experts in the development and application of DNA technology were hired to staff the DNA laboratory. An area of the New York State Police Headquarters Crime Laboratory was rehabilitated and equipped for DNA analyses, methods were validated and the State Police began accepting forensic cases for DNA analysis on February 1, 1994.
New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center
The New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center (FIC) opened in November, 1996. The Center is a state-of-the-art forensic facility built to serve the entire law enforcement community in New York State. It continues the Division's commitment to provide the State Police and other criminal justice agencies with the tools that are most effective in the fight against violent crime. The Center provides full forensic services including crime laboratories, computerized tracking of serial offenders through the New York State Violent Crime Analysis Program (NYS VICAP), the State Police's centralized link to the Statewide Automated Fingerprint Identification System (SAFIS), and the Crime Analysis Section. The Crime Laboratory performs DNA analysis for criminal investigations being conducted by the State Police, as well as for local law enforcement agencies throughout the State. In addition, a new DNA Data Bank Section is compiling DNA records from violent felons sentenced to prison in New York State. These records can be searched by computer to determine whether any of the samples matches evidence from unsolved criminal cases.
The total cost of construction for the Center, $25 million, will be paid for from the Division's portion of assets seized from drug traffickers under asset forfeiture statutes. These monies were seized in the course of investigations and arrests in which the New York State Police participated with Federal and local law enforcement agencies.
In late 1993, the New York State Police co-sponsored a workshop entitled "Safe Schools" to help school communities develop comprehensive programs to prevent violent incidents from occurring in schools or during school activities, handle violent incidents that do arise and deal effectively with the aftermath of violence. Starting with the Spring 1994 Semester, the Division began offering an expanded program for local school systems throughout the State.
Webber Seavey Award
The Division's "Project SERVE" (School Emergency Response To Violent Events) received the prestigious Webber Seavey Award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 1998. SERVE was an expansion of the Division's highly successful "Safe Schools" program developed in 1993, which helps school communities develop comprehensive programs to prevent violent incidents in schools or during school activities, handle violent incidents that did arise, and deal effectively with the aftermath of violence.
While the overall rate of violent crime fell during the latter half of the decade, domestic violence remained a problem in New York State, particularly in upstate and rural areas. To address this, the Division secured a $149,985 federal Violence Against Women Act grant during 1998 to establish its own Domestic Violence Intervention Unit (DVI). The Unit serves as a resource to field personnel with questions related to domestic violence cases or issues, and helps clarify changes in law and policy. DVI Field Coordinators are responsible for working with local service providers to improve access to victims' services for women. These personnel work in partnership with the State's Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence to provide enhanced training to State Police and local law enforcement personnel, conduct followup contacts with domestic violence victims, and cooperate with service providers to ensure victims were aware of, and have access to, available services.
Doctor Slepian Homicide
On October 23, 1998 Dr. Barnett Slepian, a prominent Buffalo physician who provided abortion services, was shot to death at his suburban Amherst, home by a concealed sniper firing from nearby woods. The doctor had previously been the target of anti-abortion protests and had received several death threats.
Personnel of State Police Troop A were called in to assist Amherst Police with the investigation. During the ensuing weeks, information and evidence was gathered that led to the identification of James Charles Cobb as the primary suspect in Dr. Slepian's murder. As the decade closed, the suspect remained at large; however, he had been placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, along with several other dangerous criminals wanted,in connection with violent crimes committed in the United States and other countries. The assistance of the public was solicited in locating Mr. Cobb.
The single most significant issue for law enforcement in New York State over the last three decades has been the explosive increase in illegal drug trafficking and drug abuse. In 1960 the New York State Police did not make a single arrest for drug trafficking or illegal possession, nor was even one case involving illegal drugs reported to the Division. In the 1990s, drug arrests numbered in the tens of thousands annually. The New York State Police has hundreds of narcotics investigators working in all areas of the State. These intensive efforts impacted on illegal drug traffic, not only in New York, but also in other states, as the Division successfully shut down a number of major interstate drug operations.
Community Narcotics Enforcement Teams
By 1990, illegal drug trafficking was no longer a problem limited to major urban areas. Illegal drugs, and the street crime that attends them, spread throughout the suburbs and even the most rural areas of New York. As narcotics dealers spread their operations and influence across the State, the New York State Police was inundated with requests to assist local police in eliminating drug traffic in suburban and rural communities. In response to these requests, the Division formed Community Narcotics Enforcement Teams to target this problem by directing high intensity street level enforcement at specific problem areas throughout the State.
The State Police deployed Community Narcotics Enforcement Teams in strategic locations across the State to help local police departments in areas blighted by heavy narcotics trafficking. Through CNET, personnel resources and the technical expertise of New York State Police members specifically trained in narcotics enforcement became available at the request of any local police agency outside New York City and Long Island. The Community Narcotics Enforcement Teams have been highly successful and have filled a definite void that existed in needed support services. The reception of CNET by local Police Chiefs, District Attorneys and elected officials was highly favorable. Among the most successful CNET investigations were intensive "Crackdown" operations in a number of cities across the State that not only reduced drug trafficking, but also reduced violent and property crimes overall in the weeks following the operations.
Troop Drug Enforcement Units
Each Troop, except Troop T and Troop NYC, has a dedicated Troop Narcotics Enforcement Unit that compliments the efforts of CNET and the various Drug Enforcement Task Forces. Troop Narcotics Units work closely with State Police Uniform and BCI members as well as with local and county law enforcement personnel to identify and interdict illegal drug trafficking. The Troop K and Troop L Narcotics Units have been particularly successful in penetrating the upper echelons of organized drug distribution organizations and seizing extraordinarily large quantities of drugs and millions of dollars in cash and illegally acquired assets. The Troop K Narcotics Unit began an investigation of the Cali Cartel, one of the largest illegal drug organizations in the world, in 1987; this investigation became one of the Division's most successful drug investigations in the History of the State Police.
On September 19, 1994, the Division completed its first test of its "Operation Clean Sweep" program to help communities reclaim severely deteriorated neighborhoods. The September operation, conducted in the City of Poughkeepsie in conjunction with the Poughkeepsie Police Department and the Dutchess County District Attorney's Office, was a three day, joint project that involved intensive surveillance followed by a "street sweep" that resulted in the arrests of 59 people for Criminal Sale and Possession of Controlled Substances and Marijuana and a variety of related charges. Approximately 300 bags of "crack" cocaine, a quarter pound of marijuana, and weapons that included a loaded semiautomatic pistol were seized during the arrests.
Clean Sweep operations target drug traffickers who brazenly conduct their transactions in the open and remove the illicit trade, along with its attendant violence, from the neighborhood. The Poughkeepsie operation was conducted in direct response to requests from local officials for help in dealing with overwhelming increases in drug trafficking and violent crime in their community.
The New York State Police develops an annual Traffic Safety Plan that reflects the Division's responsibility to save lives and reduce the number of crashes and injuries on the highways of New York State. Meeting this responsibility is imperative because, for people in the first four decades of life, injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and lifelong functional impairment. The Division's education and enforcement efforts greatly reduced highway fatality rates in New York State beginning in 1987.
Excessive speed has long been the most significant factor in traffic accidents. To ensure the safety of motorists on the State's highways, the Division of State Police has employed a wide variety of speed enforcement strategies, including mobile and stationary radar, laser speed measurement, aerial enforcement and mobile patrols.
Several innovative strategies were implemented following a review of the rising number of highway fatalities on state roads in 1986 and 1987 which found that the rise in fatal accidents was closely linked to increased speed. The overall goal of the Division's speed enforcement programs is to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities by presenting a highly visible police enforcement presence on the highways.
Drunk and Drugged Driving
Intoxicated drivers continued to be a principal cause of personal injury and fatal motor vehicle accidents investigated by the New York State Police. For this reason, DWI enforcement was made a priority for all Division members. One of the more effective enforcement tools for reducing the number of intoxicated drivers on the road is Sobriety Checkpoints. Another highly effective enforcement technique is Saturation Patrols, where additional patrols are assigned to an area with known drunk driving problems. The extra patrols greatly increase the likelihood that intoxicated drivers will be identified and apprehended. Saturation Patrols and Sobriety Checkpoints have been run in conjunction with each other, with great success.
On June 26, 1990, the Division of State Police and NYNEX initiated a program that enables motorists to alert police to a suspected intoxicated driver. The program, 1-800-CURB DWI, was the nation's first toll-free, multiple answering point telephone number to connect people reporting drunk drivers with the State Police. The program enlists New York motorists as "auxiliary spotters" of drunk drivers, in effect allowing observation and reporting of drunk drivers who are operating vehicles miles from the nearest police patrol.
Through the use of innovative communications technology, calls to the number are automatically routed to the closest New York State Police Communications Center. State Police Communications personnel then alert the nearest available police unit, whether State Police, county sheriff's patrol or local police unit.
Impaired Driver Detection Program
Because of the increasing frequency of driving while impaired by drugs, greater attention was given to developing non-invasive procedures that enable a police officer to determine whether or not a person is under the influence of drugs and, if so, what drug or drugs are involved. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funded research to develop these techniques; the results of that research were incorporated in the New York State Police Drug Recognition Expert program. New York State Police Drug Recognition Experts also trained members of other police agencies in New York, as well as officers from other states and even other countries, in these techniques. Based on subsequent toxicology tests to confirm the DRE evaluations, State Police DRE proficiency rated 95.4%, i.e., the laboratory tests confirmed their evaluations in 95.4% of the cases they processed.
Crimes Against Children
The New York State Police has had a Child Abuse and Sexual Exploitation Unit for several years; its members frequently assist investigators from county and local police departments, as well as State Police Investigators, in the investigation of assaults against children. In May, 1994, the New York State Police Child Protection Program was implemented. The program was developed in response to the Sara Anne Wood abduction and the lessons learned from the investigation of her disappearance. One component of the Child Protection Program is an instructional program for school aged children called "Step Away For Safety."
"Step Away For Safety" received considerable attention from police agencies and child service providers. Information about the program was disseminated through a series of presentations and conferences hosted by the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Division for Women, the Department of Corrections, the State Education Department and the New York State Crime Prevention Coalition. Each Troop Commander and Troop Public Information Officer was provided with program materials for distribution. Other components of the Child Protection Program include the provision of information for parents, ways to facilitate community involvement in instances of child abduction, and guidelines for police to follow when responding to missing children cases.
The State Police also operates a Child Abuse Hotline database and referral program. All calls to the State Child Abuse Hotline involving abuse by a non-family member are reported to the State Police, which then refers the case to the local law enforcement agency; however, if there is no local police department, the Division initiates its own investigation.
The New York State Police continually seeks to improve its information technology in order to meet its own agency needs, as well as to continue to provide all of the state's law enforcement agencies with rapid and efficient access to essential criminal justice information. In 1967, the Division was the first state agency to have an on-line, real time mainframe computer system. This evolved to a sophisticated mainframe based information system that serves other law enforcement agencies through the New York Statewide Police Information Network (NYSPIN); it also provides internal management and crime analyses capabilities through the State Police Management Information Network (MIN).
In the mid-1990s, the State Police was moving to next generation information technology through the implementation of personal computer based local area networks. Local Area Networks (LANs) were installed in many Division Headquarters Sections as well as in the Computer Crime Unit and the New York State Police Academy. Ultimately, the technology initiative will result in LAN installation throughout Division Headquarters, in Troop Headquarters and in the Forensic Investigation Center to provide case tracking and management capabilities, as well as more traditional information technology applications. In the future, other Division Headquarters sections are to be connected through a sophisticated network interconnecting local and wide area networks and LANs in the Troops.
Through state of the art personal computers, LANs, and a client server approach to systems, State Police personnel are able to take full advantage of workgroup computing, sharing access to data and printers, data storage devices, file servers and communications. By expanding LAN technology and Wide Area Network (WAN) systems, the State Police and the state's criminal justice community will realize the improvements in efficiency and effectiveness currently being achieved through the application of this technology in private industry.
Cellular 911 Systems
The rapidly increasing popularity and number of cellular telephones made them a significant factor in reporting accidents and emergencies on the highways, as well as fires and crimes in progress observed by motorists. Motorists wishing to report a crime, accident or other emergency via cellular telephones, however, frequently encountered problems that were a function of their mobility. Callers, particularly those traveling the interstate and controlled access highways in the State, often did not know what town or even what county they were in and often crossed several jurisdictional boundaries while in the process of reporting an incident. For this reason, the State Police, with its statewide jurisdiction and dispatchers who have full knowledge of jurisdictional boundaries and service areas within a wide geographical area, was the agency best suited to provide C-911 service answering services.
The New York State Police entered into agreements with a number of cellular telephone service providers to receive cellular 911 calls. The Division has been processing cellular 911 calls since 1987. Where law enforcement assistance is needed, the nearest available law enforcement unit with jurisdiction is dispatched, regardless of agency affiliation.
METRO-21 Communications Project
The Metro-21 800 MHZ radio system project created a wide area repeater system in the New York City area on five channels previously obtained from the Federal Communications Commission. This new system provided the State Police secure speech frequencies in New York City for the first time since it began operations there. It likewise established secure communications with other state, city and federal agencies. This system was crucial to effective law enforcement communications in the New York City area, as current communications systems were overloaded and suffered from serious technical difficulties. The New York City Police Department, the New York City Transit Police and a number of federal law enforcement agencies requested, and received, approval to transmit through the system.
During the last half of the decade, the Division received over $13 million from the U.S. Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office. The grants funded personnel and equipment, enabling the Division to expand its commitment to community policing. Well over 1,000 laptop computers, pedestals and software were obtained via the grants; in addition, 70 new Trooper positions were authorized, supporting the establishment of Community Stabilization Teams in all Troops except T and NYC. These 70 members were primarily assigned to post-CNET operations, aggressive driving deterrence details, anti-school violence initiatives and work with localities to target specifically identified problems of concern to area residents.
Internet and Intranet
As the 1990s drew to a close, the Internet and World Wide Web continued to make a dramatic impact on business, government, educational institutions and the public. The Division moved quickly to avail itself of the new technology and launched its website, www.troopers.ny.gov, in late 1996. By the end of 1999, more than 7 million "hits" were being recorded annually at the website. In addition, thousands of e-mail inquiries were being received annually, to which the Division routinely replied promptly.
Plans also were being developed to handle much of the application process for the first trooper exam of the new millennium via the web. In addition, a Transportation Management Center opened on the first floor at Division Headquarters, enabling the motoring public to easily obtain traffic status reports in the Capital District and elsewhere via a link to the DOT on the Division's website. Further enhancements were planned as the 1990s drew to a close.
Planning was likewise well underway for an Intranet (internal Internet), which would extend to division employees the power, speed and efficiency of the Internet for matters dealing with State Police business. Testing was well underway by the end of 1999, and pilot applications were in use.