Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Friday, 09 June 2023 09:27

Commissioner Montagnino: More Bad Ideas

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics
Commissioner Montagnino: More Bad Ideas

The Times Union is reporting that Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino is considering discontinuing a psychological test designed to determine if police and firefighter recruits are suitable for employment.

I assume that Montagnino approached reporter Wendy Liberatore to do this story. It is odd that there would be a news story about a Commissioner who is simply contemplating an action that he might take. It demonstrates Commissioner Montagnino's success with his obsession to constantly be in the news. It must have been a very slow news day.

Montagnino told Liberatore “a remarkable spate of psych eval failures" of candidates for the police and fire department prompted this.

Montagnino complained:

“We sat down and reviewed what the law said," Montagnino said. "Applying that strictly, you are basically giving a psychologist the veto power over that appointment. The law seems to suggest that there is some discretion involved.”

Times Union

Noting that the recruits who were disqualified passed the written psychological tests but not the psychologist interview, Montagnino characterized the psychological interview as “a subjective analysis” for things like impulse control, judgment, and the ability to tolerate stress.

This blogger wonders why Montagnino accepts the written psychological exam as acceptable while dismissing the interview process as "subjective?"

It would seem obvious that when it comes to people armed with guns, the more rigorous the screening, the better. Overriding an opinion that an officer might have a problem with impulse control does not seem prudent.

Maybe The Problem Is Montagnino?

Montagnino is clearly having a problem attracting recruits to the department. While, in general, nationally, there is a problem filling police positions, Montagnino is not considering that his management is exacerbating the problem here in Saratoga Springs.

Consider that his idea of establishing standards for his officers was to make them subject to termination on the basis of adultery. What does that tell you about his skills as a manager? For that matter, what does that tell you about his skills as an attorney? In order to fire someone, the city must go through arbitration. It is unlikely that an arbitrator would support terminating someone because, in their private life, they have indulged in adultery, not to mention to the problem of proving this in a court of law.

You can imagine the comic relief that police in other departments must enjoy when they hear about this standard in Saratoga Springs.

The police community is a rather small one in the capital district. The police department under Montagnino has lost some highly respected officers. Montagnino's abuse of the men and women serving under him is no secret. The forced retirement of Lieutenant Laura Emanation, the highest ranking female officer in the department, the de facto demotion of and retirement of Lieutenant Bob Jillson, and the early retirement of Chief Shane Crooks have sent a message to anyone thinking about working for him. In fact, the department is experiencing a general exodus as other members of the force are seeking employment with other departments.

Based on discussions with multiple members of the force, morale in the department is at an all-time low and both Montagnino and his deputy, Jason Tetu, enjoy little respect.

Small wonder that of those interested in working for the department, many are unsuited.

Times Union Editorial Slams Montagnino

It is fairly unusual for me to be on the same page as a Times Union editorial, but the https://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/editorial-police-recruits-able-pass-mental-check-18129144.php&cd=12&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="color: rgb(6, 117, 196); text-decoration: underline;">June 5, 2023 editorial hit the mark. In their editorial, they point out the absurdity of Montagnino's proposal.

Montagnino's Overreach

In what seems to be yet another example of Montagnino's continued pursuit of media coverage, the Commissioner placed an announcement on his agenda for the June 6, 2023, City Council meeting stating that prior to any request for a no-knock warrant from a judge, either the Commissioner or the Deputy Commissioner must approve the request.

This sets another bad precedent. The Public Safety Commissioner is not supposed to involve themselves in the operational aspects of the police department. Montagnino is not a trained law enforcement professional. The responsibility for a decision to seek such a warrant is the purview of the Chief of Police. One of the reasons that morale is so low in the department is that Montagnino has a history of inappropriately involving himself in operational matters. He routinely bypasses his Police Chief.

The most disturbing example of this was his interference in the case that ended up with Laura Emanation resigning. He insisted on involving himself in an ongoing investigation. He decided that an individual should be arrested over the objections of his Lieutenant handling the case.

Think about it. Do we want a person whose only basic qualification is that they were elected to an office to be deciding who should be arrested and whether a no-knock warrant should go to a Judge or not? This is an invitation for abuse of power.

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