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SARATOGA SPRINGS

Saratoga Springs Police Chief Christopher Cole says he knows most people think of the city he's charged with keeping safe as a pretty benevolent place.

And while the community is largely secure, he says, it also has its share of problems.

"People think of Saratoga as the Beverley Hills of upstate New York, which is great perception to have, but Saratoga is a city, and we do have city problems," Cole said in an interview late last week. "The reality is we do have crime."

Statistics provided by the department prove the point.

Saratoga Springs police made 1,068 arrests - a 76 percent jump from the number made in 2008 - and responded to nearly 31,000 calls for service last year, information provided by authorities shows.

The number of arrests for drugs, weapons, domestic violence and drunken driving all climbed in 2009, according to the information provided by police.

The gains, Cole said, show not just that crime does indeed occur in Saratoga Springs, but that targeted enforcement efforts and adequate resources are also the keys to quelling it.

Last year's increase in arrests, he said, was made possible largely because the department received additional state money that allowed officers to spend additional hours on targeted enforcement efforts outside their regular duties.

Increased road patrols and interdiction efforts helped officers to make several arrests that might not have otherwise been made, Cole said.

The department is not expecting any extra state money to continue such efforts this year, though, and will also have to deal with the impact of having seven fewer officers at the ready after budget cuts forced the number of officers on hand to be cut from 72 to 65.

"It's all about money and bodies, and we have less of both," said Cole, who served as assistant chief last year before taking over the top job in December following the retirement of Ed Moore.

The cuts in staff and loss of state aid will likely force the department into a more reactionary mode, and the shift will have a pronounced impact on the city, Cole said.

"Once we lose the ability to do what we're doing currently, there's no doubt in my mind you will start to see the quality of life decline," he said. "We don't want to turn into a reactive department, but the loss of staff starts to send the pendulum in that direction."

One are of particular concern, authorities said, is the department's ability to proactively seek and find drug dealers who operate in the city's downtown area.

Last year, the department used nearly $50,000 in state grant money to pay officers for overtime hours spent making controlled buys, eavesdropping and taking proactive measures to curb drug sales - cash that won't be arriving this year.

Without the extra state money, Saratoga Springs police will have to find new ways to save, or pass some responsibilities along to the Saratoga County District Attorney's office and other law enforcement agents that collaborate in the effort.

District Attorney Jim Murphy said this week that it is possible his office could step in and do more, in part because they received a $44,000 state grant to help continue focused drug investigations in the area.

The money is being used to pay for another part-time assistant district attorney, allowing one prosecutor to focus solely on drug efforts, but could also extend to other areas to help Saratoga Springs make up for their loss.

Making such arraignments, Murphy said, will be critical because controlling the drug activity is about more than just keeping marijuana, cocaine and, increasingly, heroin off the streets.

Violent crimes such as burglaries and assaults are often linked to drug activity, he said, pointing out that the last three murders to occur in and around the city were all drug-related.

The last such event was the 2005 execution-style murder of Saratoga Springs resident William Zachary, who police say was killed over a $250 crack-cocaine debt.

Among their activities last year, Saratoga Springs police arrested 11 men and women who they say were funneling crack from New York City into the area and imposing violence on addicts who couldn't pay.

Police also seized guns and drugs from a Franklin Street residence in November, and are investigating a shooting that occurred in December that is believed to be drug-related.

"My experience has always been that drug dealing is, by its very nature, violent," Murphy said this week. "I think it is absolutely vital that we hold the line on drug offenses."

Saratoga Springs police last week announced that they would eliminate their D.A.R.E. program in order to ease some of their budgetary burden, and have also found private donors willing to take over costs linked to the department's horse-mounted patrol.

Cole said more cost saving ideas are still being explored, but that the idea of moving dispatch services based at the Saratoga Springs department to the county level - offered last year as a way to save money - is likely dead.

After the suggestion was made to move the city's dispatch operations to the Saratoga County Sheriff's Department last year, Cole and other city public safety officials met with Sheriff James Bowen to discuss the issue.

It quickly became apparent that dispatchers in Saratoga Springs, who keep and maintain records and perform other clerical work, could not be replicated at the county level, Cole said.

"We were all in agreement that the service that our dispatchers provide can not be done by the county," he said.

Saratoga County dispatchers did, however, receive fewer calls for service last year, information provided by the sheriff's department shows.

In all, the department received 78,062 calls for service in 2009, a 3 percent decline from the year prior, the information shows.

The sheriff's department also made fewer arrests - 1,252 in 2009 versus 1,263 in 2008 - statistics show.

Saratoga County Sheriff James Bowen did not return several requests for an interview, but Undersheriff Michael Woodcock suggested the numbers reflect the area's relative economic stability and stern enforcement efforts.

"It's hard to pinpoint one thing that dictates crime rate, but the fact that we do make arrests and the district attorney prosecutes them with fervor does play a role," Woodcock said.

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