COLONIE Times have changed since Jonathan Teale joined the Colonie Police Department 26 years ago.
Some of those changes include advances in training and technology that improve the safety and capability of the officers he took command of back in June, when he was sworn in as the department’s new chief of police.
However, he says that others have made his new job considerably more difficult, like the dramatic resurgence in heroin abuse and the fact that, while the region has grown and criminal activities have become more complicated due to advancing technology, the size of the police force has remained essentially the same.
Chief Teale knows each of his 109 officers and detectives by name, and he jokes with them amiably as they pass in the halls of the station at 312 Wolf Road in Latham. “I was a patrol officer for nine and a half years,” he said, seated behind the desk in his new corner office. “I was also a detective, patrol sergeant, detective sergeant, administrative lieutenant, deputy chief and administrative deputy chief. I think I have a pretty good perspective about what goes on in the local police department,” he chuckled. “Or, I hope so by now.”
Born and raised in Colonie, Teale has been with the same force his entire career. The town’s population was approximately 76,000 when he became an officer; today, Teale estimates there are about 82,000 residents. “But there are another 200,000 traveling through our town every day,” he said.
As the cities around Colonie have grown, he said, many of the problems associated with urban areas have begun to encroach on a town that was ranked by CQ Press as having the lowest crime rate in the nation just five years ago. “Colonie is somewhat unique in the fact that we’re surrounded by three cities,” he says. “We’re in the middle of Albany, Schenectady and Troy. We see what the cities around us see.”
Lately, what Teale has been seeing is heroin. “That’s one of the things that has driven violent crime. Heroin is a major problem.” Teale said when he joined the force, heroin was relatively rare, but that has changed dramatically over the last few years. “I don’t know exact numbers, but we’re probably seeing over 100 overdoses a year,” he says. “Not all of those are fatal, but now all of our officers carry Narcan, an opiate antidote, on their vest all the time. There is at least one individual in our town who has been brought back to life four times-by officers twice, by EMS twice.”
“I think what we’re seeing is an unfortunate result of the tightened controls on prescription drugs by state and federal governments, so people who tended to use prescribed painkillers have found that it’s much more difficult to doctor shop and so they will turn to illegal drugs to fill that gap. And it’s cheap.”
While he is interested in programs aimed at rehabilitation of addicts rather than compulsive incarceration-that are being implemented in some municipalities in other states, Teale said his priority is apprehending heroin dealers. “There’s a lot of it out there. And those are the really bad guys.” He also stresses that educational programs, such as D.A.R.E., are also important tools used by his department to combat illegal drug use.
Teale estimates that, currently, as much as 95 percent of crimes committed in Colonie are tied to drugs. “Easily. Whether it’s somebody who is going in and shoplifting to pay for their habit all the way up to someone committing an armed robbery and homicide,” he says, referring to the recent indictments against two local men for the murder of a hairdresser in Colonie. Police believe the motive was to steal money from her salon on Sand Creek Road to buy heroin. “There are very few professional burglars out there,” he adds. “They exist, but they’re the minority.”
“It was a major event for the Town of Colonie,” he said of the Jacquelyn Porreca case. “Our last homicide was four years ago. I know the community was grateful that we were able to make those arrests and I’m grateful to the community for all the tips and leads we received. An awful lot of people wanted to help. That’s hugely important, and I think, goes to show what a good relationship we have with our local community.”