On 06/28/21 Commissioner Robin Dalton convened a press conference and community meeting to address the recent spike in downtown violence. The panel included Assistant Police Chief John Catone and Lieutenant Robert Jillson. The event has generated a flurry of unflattering news stories including scathing editorials in the Daily Gazette and in the Times Union . The Times Union called for Commissioner Dalton and Assistant Chief Catone to resign.
Assistant Police Chief John Catone Unloads
I have a genuine sympathy for John Catone. Retiring in eight months, he has been a Saratoga Springs police officer for thirty-five years. He has dedicated his life to serving the citizens of this city.
In 2011, in fact, following trouble on Caroline Street, he was the point person for the police who worked with the local bars to better deal with problematic customers.
I also understand his frustration. His organization has been routinely denounced in the local news and social media as white supremacists bent on assaulting and humiliating people of color.
This blog has documented the verbal abuse directed at the police by the leadership of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter. The fact that the police to date have maintained their discipline and professionalism and that no one in any of the demonstrations has been hurt has received little acknowledgement not only by the leaders of the protests but by the media in general.
Police Chief Shane Crooks has set an example of quiet restraint in his public profile. He has refused to be drawn into personal exchanges. Lieutenant Jillson has been the point person for the police at the demonstrations and has been a particular target of invective by the leadership of the protests. Similar to Chief Crooks he has shown the highest level of professionalism in refusing to be provoked.
Let’s also acknowledge the gravity of what the police are trying to deal with. Someone was stabbed and, even more disturbingly, someone discharged a firearm in our downtown. If you are in the leadership of the police and are concerned with the safety of our citizens, you are more than alarmed. The crowds have grown in size and the level of potential violence is there. Small wonder that Catone should feel passionate about addressing the threat.
But Assistant Police Chief Catone, as an executive in his department, is expected to show the quiet command required to effectively lead others. No matter how volatile a situation, a leader sets a standard of quiet discipline. Young inexperienced officers look to their leadership for how they themselves should act. With regret, I do not think that Catone met those very demanding standards at the press conference. Allowing himself to vent his frustrations in a rant is no message to send to the men and women under his command.
He was angry, and he felt he had the right to indulge that anger. In his own words he told those present “I am pissed off.” He had many thoughtful remarks about what his department was doing to address the increasing incidents of violence, but they were overshadowed by his undisguised anger at the unnamed people and institutions that he blamed.
He appeared unaware or possibly unconcerned as to how some of his more challenging statements would appear when published in area newspapers and on television.
He warned the public, “If you continue to push the lies I will in the final eight months of this job pull out every connection my family has made in the last one hundred and thirty years and I will stop your narrative because we are not a racist police department but somebody has got to stand up and stop the lies and disinformation.”
Referring to his “kids,” he told those present “I will not! I will not leave them high and dry! If you are going after them you are going after me and I am going to fight back.”
“If you are not for us you are against us.”
Catone may not have meant these as a threat to anyone in any physical sense, but it contributed fodder to the very narrative he was trying to change. Assistant Chief Catone is a large man and to say he came off as belligerent is an understatement.
He bitterly blamed unnamed politicians both locally running for office and statewide as having “promoted the demonizing of the police while emboldening the criminal with absolutely no consequences.” That kind of hyperbole belies the fact that serious crime still has consequences as hopefully the person who fired a gun in our city will find out.
His remarks suggested that the perpetrators of the stabbing and the gunshot were somehow encouraged and supported by the social justice advocates. With respect to Assistant Chief Catone, the people who shot and stabbed were criminals looking for trouble and to gain status among their peers. They bore no relation to those calling for social justice.
A Plague of Violence and Incivility
It seems sadly apparent that increasingly people feel they have a right to exercise their anger and that cavalier indulgence has created the perfect environment for escalations in violence.
A child is killed in California in a road rage incident.
Airline passengers assault flight attendants over having to wear masks.
Thousands assault police officers who were trying to protect our capital on January 6.
Local girls who are actually on the Saratoga Springs High School cheerleading squad assault a young girl in order to post the violence on TikTok.
These are just a few examples of the arbitrary nature of the current plague of violence.
Catone’s primary point that we as a community need to come together to work on solutions is on the mark, but it begins with a recognition that the sources of our problems are deep and complex. Denouncing Black Lives Matter fails to grasp that it is not a homogeneous movement. It includes people such as myself. I do not attend local Black Lives Matter events because I think they are poorly conceived and counter-productive, but I recognize and am concerned at the reports of excessive force against people of color nationally.
Let’s Not Demonize John Catone
All of us, if we are human and self-aware, have said and done things we later come to regret. I would like to believe that John Catone, who has served this city with distinction for thirty-five years, will in retrospect realize that he should have shown greater care in his remarks. Officer Catone has the opportunity to set an example by acknowledging his excess and in so doing bring out the best in all of us so that we can work as a community to find solutions.