By Robert Kimmel —
Tarrytown’s Police Department has reported a significant drop in total arrests during 2020, attributed mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While arrest numbers for the past four years in the village have shown small declines each subsequent year, the reduction last year was dramatic- a decrease by almost two-thirds as compared to the pre-pandemic 2019 level.
During 2020, there were 126 arrests made, as compared to 364 in 2019. “I would say that COVID-19 was the number one contributor to the arrest reduction rate for a lot of reasons,” said Police Chief John Barbelet.
Barbelet described the lessening of some criminal and illegal activity in 2020, citing, “less shoplifting and some less driving with suspended licensing or registration,” among the reasons for the arrest decrease. “There were not as many people out driving or socializing, and officers out there might not have been as proactive to engage due to COVID-19,” he added.
The police chief explained that loosening rules related to the use of marijuana also played a part in the drop of arrests. “In years past, even a small amount of marijuana possession was a cause for arrest,” Barbelet said. “Now the District Attorney’s Office will not even prosecute for possession of up to a certain amount of marijuana, so we do not arrest for that anymore. It is still illegal to possess it, so we take it and destroy it, but we do not arrest the person.”
In 2017, Tarrytown police made 450 arrests and in 2018, the arrests totaled 399. Arrests are also listed by ethnicity, as well as race and age, offering statistical evidence of apprehensions in those categories. While serious crimes in New York State have shown a continuing decline over the past decade, the overall state arrest records for 2020 also show a significant statistical drop greater than previous years.
The pandemic has altered certain procedures in the Tarrytown department, according to Barbelet. He described some as being “totally different,” because of the disease. “There used to be a face-to-face exchange between the daytime officer and the afternoon officer. Now we have eliminated that,” he noted. “Officers decontaminate their cars before the end of their tours.” The chief also described other precautions including the use of gloves, gowns and high protections masks.
Arraignment procedures for those arrested have also experienced changes. “If we have an arraignment now, it is done virtually, so we have to set up the capability for doing that in the booking area,” Barbelet said. “It has drastically impacted the way we operate.”
As of this January, Tarrytown police are also equipped with body cameras. Barbelet stated that while their use has not changed the department’s policing practices, it has allowed officers to “give them their own depiction of authority.”
“Historically, in the media and so forth, you would have people filming with their phones, and they might show 15 seconds of an officer grabbing somebody by the arm, but 15 seconds prior to that, that person may have struck someone with a bottle,” Barbelet said. “That is not what is portrayed; but now the body camera provides the officer with the opportunity to have a depiction of what actually occurred.”
Barbelet maintained, “The cameras protect the community, because if you have an incident, we can go back and re-visit it with the camera; so it is great for the community, and it is great for the officer. People have to realize that, especially for the jobs of 34 sworn officers that serve a population of 13,000 people, body cameras are a major advancement and a reform step in the right direction for our department. They are expensive, require a lot of maintenance and are labor and technology extensive.”
Barbelet also explained body camera procedures required: “Someone going to the cameras, categorizing the content, and sending the information to the Village Attorney’s Office.” He added that they are also used for training purposes.
The chief emphasized that he supports their use. He emphasized, “I was very happy the Board of Trustees was cooperative in making this happen.”