New York State Police

The 1980s

A photo of a 1983 New York State Police patrol car.

During the 1980s the New York State Police grew to more than 4,000 sworn members, becoming the largest full service state police in the nation. This growth was essential to meeting as the State Police took the lead in law enforcement efforts against the burgeoning crime problems confronting the State: illegal drug trafficking, violent crime, child abuse and exploitation, computer crimes, consumer product tampering and bias motivated crimes.

New responsibilities did not diminish the role of the New York State Police in providing police protection for rural areas and ensuring the safety of travelers on the State's roads and highways. The New York State Police evolved into what is truly a full service law enforcement agency. In rural areas that do not have the resources to provide local police protection, the State Police provides primary police coverage, first response to calls for police service and investigative and support services in serious criminal cases. In suburban areas, the State Police provides full services in areas not covered by a local department, patrols State roads and interstate highways, supports local police departments and provides sophisticated investigative and technical assistance to departments investigating major crimes. In urban areas, the State Police concentrates on drug trafficking, violent crime, money laundering and organized criminal activities that cross jurisdictional boundaries.

In addition to direct police services, the New York State Police developed a wide range of sophisticated investigative and support services during the 1980s that are available to law enforcement agencies across the State to assist them in their police activities. These include Violent Criminal Investigative Services, computerized databases and analyses, forensic laboratory services, access to specialists in forensic sciences, mobile response teams and training. These are provided in addition to services established in earlier decades such as Hazardous Materials Specialists, Canine Units, Aviation and divers. Throughout the decade, the New York State Police continued its tradition of cooperating with, assisting and supporting local and county law enforcement agencies across the State.

International Acclaim

The 1980s dawned with international attention focused on the New York State Police as the Division provided security and traffic control for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Thanks to extensive preparation and training, the performance of the State Police was nearly flawless. There were no serious incidents of crime or terrorist activity and the State Police Detail coped efficiently and effectively with the many emergencies that arose. Division personnel were particularly resourceful in resolving the serious transportation problems that occurred when the shuttle bus system organized by the Olympic Committee broke down at the start of the Games. The assistance rendered to spectators stranded without transportation and the Division's organization of emergency bus transportation earned the praise and admiration of the public, press and competitors alike.

Continued Expansion

The expansion of facilities and services continued in the 1980s. Under legislation that took effect on January 1, 1980, the New York State Police took over responsibility for policing the Long Island Parkway and three shorter parkways upstate. The Parkway Police who were providing these services were absorbed into the New York State Police. With the addition of the Long Island Parkway to existing State Police duties on Long Island, it was impractical to continue supervising State Police activities on Long Island from Troop K headquarters in Poughkeepsie so a new Troop L was formed and became operational January 1, 1980. In 1986, Troop L Headquarters relocated from Islip Terrace to a new Headquarters Facility in Farmingdale.

The opening of the Southern Tier Regional Crime Laboratory in Port Crane and the Western Regional Crime Laboratory in Olean continued State Police efforts to make its Crime Laboratory services more convenient and accessible to local police agencies. Five more satellite offices were also opened in 1980, and two were added in 1981, bringing the total number of satellite offices to 67. A more substantial addition to facilities occurred when the Olympic Games ended and the Olympic Command and Control Center at Ray Brook became the new Headquarters for Troop B.

In 1983, Governor Mario M. Cuomo appointed Donald O. Chesworth to succeed the retiring Superintendent William Connelie. Superintendent Chesworth was a former FBI agent and Monroe County District Attorney. He took office with a clear mandate from the Governor to expand the State Police and introduce new services to address the serious crime problems confronting the State and improve the assistance and services the Division of State Police provides to local law enforcement agencies.

New Programs

Many new programs were initiated to address specific crime problems. One of these was the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) inaugurated in 1983. The creation of the SIU doubled the number of State Police personnel dedicated to investigating organized crime. The SIU works closely with the Organized Crime Task Force attached to the Attorney General's Office.

A major modernization of the Division's Aviation Fleet was undertaken. In 1983, two Bell Long Ranger Jet helicopters were purchased and two more helicopters were added in 1984. These aircraft replaced three 15-year old Bell Jet Ranger helicopters and two 20-year old Army surplus Hueys.

In 1984 the State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice Services began the 12 Most Wanted Program. This program publicized the most violent criminals wanted for crimes committed in New York State and solicited public assistance in locating them so that they could be apprehended by the proper law enforcement authorities. Auto Theft Units were also created to combat organized auto theft rings.

The rising number of hazardous materials spills and accidents on the State's highways prompted the formation of the HAZ-MAT Unit. These specially trained Troopers were equipped to respond to incidents involving the release of hazardous materials anywhere in the State. More importantly, they were charged with identifying shippers who used unsafe or inferior equipment, unsafe handling procedures and unqualified drivers. Other programs aimed at improving highway safety included the initiation of Sobriety Road Checks to deter driving while intoxicated, Saturation Speed Patrols to enforce speed limits, and a major education program aimed at ensuring compliance with the mandatory seat belt use law that went into effect in 1984 and the legislation that raised the minimum purchase age for alcohol from 19 to 21 in 1985.

Crime prevention efforts became a priority, with the reactivation of the Crime Prevention Program. One of the first initiatives was the Print-A-Kid Program to provide parents with fingerprints of their children that could be used to identify the child in event of an accident or abduction.

Support services were also revamped to provide additional assistance to patrol and investigative activities. Seventy Communications Specialists were hired to relieve Troopers for additional patrol duty. The Planning and Research Section was expanded to evaluate and make recommendations on adoption of new technology, maximize Federal funding and coordinate policies and procedures. A Crime Analysis Unit was created to assist field investigators in identifying patterns of criminal operations and possible case linkages.

New Superintendent

When Superintendent Chesworth returned to private law practice in 1986, Governor Cuomo turned to Thomas A. Constantine to continue the expansion and redirection of the State Police. Superintendent Constantine joined the Division as a Trooper in 1962 and had risen to become Field Commander at the time of his appointment as Superintendent. He was the first Superintendent to come up through the ranks of the State Police in thirty years.

Illegal Drugs

The greatest challenge facing the State Police was the explosion of illegal drug use and trafficking, particularly in cocaine and its malevolent offspring, crack. With the emergence of cocaine and crack as the drugs of choice during the 1980s, a new threat appeared, the vicious criminal cartels that controlled the cocaine trade. Two characteristics that made these cartels particularly dangerous were their propensity to violence and the unprecedented wealth derived from the cocaine trade that allowed them to buy the most sophisticated technology and weapons available in the world.

Narcotic Units

To meet this threat, between 1986 and 1987 the State Police added more than 200 members who were assigned full time to narcotics investigations. By the end of the decade, over 300 specially trained narcotics investigators were dedicated to identifying and apprehending criminals involved in illegal drug trade, with an emphasis on mid- and upper-level dealers.

Each Troop, with the exception of Troop T, created a dedicated Narcotics Unit. In addition, the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force, a cooperative effort that teamed New York State Police, New York City Police Department and Federal Drug Enforcement Administration personnel to investigate major drug traffickers in the New York City metropolitan area, was expanded. The DETF was so successful that it became the pattern for regional Task Forces in the Capital District, Mid-Hudson, Central and Southern Tier Regions of the State.

In 1985, the Federal Government initiated a program to share assets seized from illegal drug traffickers with local law enforcement agencies that cooperated in their seizure. This quickly became one of the most effective tools available in the war against illegal drugs. In the first full year of the program, the State Police received $677,000. Superintendent Constantine made pursuit of seized assets a priority and to date, the Division has received more than $31,000,000 from seized assets.

CALI Cocaine Cartel

In 1985 the State Police uncovered a cocaine processing laboratory on a farm in the Town of Minden, Montgomery County. Capable of producing $250 million worth of cocaine, it was the largest such processing facility ever found in North America. Continued investigations led to two more clandestine cocaine processing laboratories in Sullivan and Otsego Counties.

The detection of these laboratories focused national attention on South American crime groups that were smuggling coca paste into this country and processing it into cocaine before distributing it. It also marked the beginning of one of the most intense and long lasting drug investigations ever conducted.

Investigators following leads developed from the seizure of the clandestine laboratories quickly identified an organized criminal group based in the Cali region of Colombia that controlled almost all of the cocaine trade in New York State. Because the New York base of operations for this group, which as come to be known as the CALI Cartel, was in the Borough of Queens in New York City and the surrounding northern suburbs, the Troop K Narcotics Unit spearheaded the CALI investigation, which is still on-going.

Highway Drug Interdiction

The efforts against illegal drug traffickers are not limited to special Narcotics Units. One of the more successful programs introduced in the 1980s was the Uniform Force Highway Drug Interdiction Program. Troopers are trained to be aware of and recognize specific indicators, such a vehicle modifications, that may identify drug traffickers who have been stopped for routine Vehicle and Traffic Law violations. As a result, hundreds of pounds of illegal drugs and numerous arrests for drug offenses have been made by Troopers trained in these methods.

Highway Safety

Ensuring the safety of the State's motorists has always been a priority for the State Police. During the 1980s, a number of programs were introduced to further that goal. One of the most important is the Drug Recognition Technician (DRT) program introduced in 1988. DRTs are trained in non-invasive techniques of assessing whether or not a driver is under the influence of drugs. This program has enhanced the ability of the State Police to identify and remove drivers impaired by substances other than alcohol from the State's highways, making them safer for law abiding citizens.

Other efforts to improve highway safety included expanded commercial vehicle enforcement efforts with the establishment of the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program in 1986 and the acquisition of high performance Ford Mustangs in 1988 to enhance speed enforcement efforts on Interstate and controlled access highways. An aerial speed enforcement program was implemented in 1987 to supplement traditional speed enforcement operations. Aerial enforcement proved to be particularly effective against "professional" speeders who use radar detectors and two-way radios to avoid arrest.

Improved Support Services

The support that State Police specialists provide to Troopers and Investigators in the field is critical to their success. These services are also available to local and county law enforcement department and other government agencies to assist them with their work. Major improvements were made to these support services during the 1980s.


The improvement of communications systems continued throughout the decade. Two new emergency communications vehicles, designed by the State Police at the request of the State Emergency Preparedness Commission, were placed in service in 1986.

In 1988, the New York State Police was designated the liaison between the State's law enforcement agencies and INTERPOL. Through the State Police Communications network, local agencies can make inquiries to, and respond to inquiries from, international law enforcement agencies associated with INTERPOL.

Computerized Support Services

The Division initiated a number of computerized support services during the 1980s. The Homicide Assessment and Lead Tracking System (HALT) provides a means of comparing case data from investigations of homicides that may be part of a series, missing persons and unidentified bodies. Tied into the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, HALT analysts can compare State Police and local law enforcement agency cases to similar cases submitted by law enforcement departments around the nation and, if there is a possibility that the cases are linked, notify the submitting agencies so that they can contact each other and coordinate their investigations.

Other computer support programs include the Statewide Narcotics Indexing Program inaugurated in 1986, the Consumer Product Tampering Database implemented in 1988 in response to legislation that made the State Police responsible for receiving reports of, and coordinating law enforcement response to any suspected product tampering cases that occur in the State.

Forensic Science Unit

Many local police departments, district attorneys, coroners and medical examiners lack access to specialists in forensic sciences. Such experts can be essential to the successful investigation and prosecution of serious crimes and to the identification of bodies following a disaster or an unexplained death or homicide. In 1985, the late Henry F. Williams, who was then the Assistant Deputy Superintendent of the BCI, created the New York State Police Forensic Science Unit to address this problem. The leading experts in forensic disciplines are available through the Unit to assist law enforcement agencies and coroners and medical examiners. The services of this Unit have been invaluable in a number of major criminal investigations across the State.

Child Abuse and Exploitation Unit

In 1987 the Child Abuse and Exploitation Unit was established in the BCI Special Projects Group at Division Headquarters. This Unit advises and assists Investigators with difficult child abuse cases. It also conducts training programs and, through a series of Federal Grants, has established a number of demonstration projects designed to minimize the trauma that investigating and prosecuting child abuse cases can inflict on the victims.

Preserving Public Safety

The New York State Police continued to be the primary resource for preserving public safety and responding with assistance in the event of disasters anywhere in the State.

When hurricane Gloria devastated Long Island in 1985 and a freak October snow and ice storm knocked out power in much of the Capital District and Hudson Valley in 1987, the State Police worked long hours assisting people to emergency shelters, controlling traffic and maintaining emergency communications. The Division likewise was widely praised for its performance at man made disasters such as the collapse of a bridge on the Thruway in 1987.