I had a candid conversation recently with Mayor Joe Saraceni and Chief of Police Michael Lefancheck.
We got together over coffee to discuss community policing, a philosophy that has come to the forefront of major cities over the past few decades, Saraceni said, adding, “We’ve been doing it for 40 years, before it was a buzzword.”
The discussion began with a brief history on the Baldwinsville Police Department.
According to the chief, the BPD reorganized in the early 70s after President Lyndon Johnson released a commission report on law enforcement across the country. One focus was for police agencies to become more community-service based as well as dressing in a less threatening manner wearing non-traditional uniforms with patches rather than badges.
“We still don’t where a badge on our uniform, we wear a patch,” Lefencheck said, adding the patch reads “Service with Understanding.”
While the uniform certainly helps make officers more approachable as a first impression, there are other measures the BPD takes to ensure order is maintained in the village including a proactive vs. reactive philosophy to situations. For example, if there is a large congregation of kids hanging out at 9 p.m., officers will talk with the group then rather than wait for trouble to develop later.
“How can we solve the problem and keep from having to deal with this again,” Lefancheck said about the philosophy. “Of course, that’s not always possible, but this is how we deal with the majority of people we come into contact with.”
The ultimate goal is to resolve whatever problem there is so officers don’t have to go back, whether a burglary or dispute between neighbors, Lefancheck said.
Last year, the department fielded around 7,000 calls; four to five hundred of those were for arresting charges for a maximum of 300 people.
“Hopefully we’re doing stuff early enough so we don’t have to make those arrests,” the chief said, adding officers are encouraged to do foot patrol on trails and ride bikes around neighborhoods with the thought if you’re visible talking to people, you are more approachable.
“We encourage officers to do regular foot patrol along the [Southshore West Trail] to get to know tourists. Their presence also helps deter people’s bad behavior,” Lefancheck said. “Getting officers out in the community pays dividends.”
“I’m a huge advocate of the work that our department does and feel that this type of policing is a perfect fit for a village like Baldwinsville – it makes our officers much more effective,” Saraceni said.
The department also works very close with code enforcement officer.
“If we have things that need securing, we work with code office to eliminate those attractive nuisances.
We are really starting to focus on vacant, dilapidated properties,” Lefencheck said.
In addition to providing protection, the BPD also offers a variety of programs including a bike safety program, work with youth, the Explorer Post and a bike patrol program. Most importantly, residents should remember that if there is a problem, there is a police department to help you, Lefancheck said.