The 1970s are remembered as one of the most turbulent periods in United States History. The social unrest that began in the 1960s peaked in the 1970s. Terrorism, both domestic and international, was a significant problem for police around the world. Terrorists and even national governments adopted hostage taking as a preferred tool for pressing their causes, and criminals quickly adopted this terrifying tactic for their own purposes. The domestic and international turmoil caused other disruptions, as well. The first oil embargo resulted in long lines at gas pumps, alternate day restrictions on the purchase of gasoline and reduced speed limits. The reduced speed limits and need to conserve gasoline produced major speed enforcement initiatives and had the unexpected benefit of significantly reducing traffic fatalities.
The oil embargo also triggered serious economic problems. Inflation soared and employment fell. Shortages of such diverse products as beef and toilet paper plagued the country, resulting in increased criminal activity such as truck hijacking. The price of gold and silver skyrocketed, and burglars looking for antique silverware and gold jewelry increased their illegal activities across the State. Illegal drug trafficking and violent crime increased drastically.
The New York State Police was confronted with dealing with these escalating crime rates and social turmoil during a time of declining resources. During the 1970s, "doing more with less" was the watchword for New York State Government. In four of the ten years, the Division did not hire any members to replace those who retired or resigned. The State Police increasingly relied on the application of technology to improve efficiency and maintain law enforcement services for the citizens they were sworn to serve. Major efforts were likewise begun to increase citizen involvement and support of the Division's law enforcement efforts.
The reorganization and modernization of the New York State Police that began during the 1960s continued into the early 1970s. In 1970 the New York State Police Academy was finally completed and the first class of 98 recruit Troopers was admitted in May. In 1971, the new headquarters for Troop K was completed. More specialized units were established as criminals became more sophisticated. In 1970 the New York City Drug Enforcement Task Force teamed State Police personnel with Federal drug enforcement agents and New York City Police Department personnel to have a major impact on illegal drug trafficking in the New York City metropolitan area. The rise of organized crime resulted in the formation of an Organized Crime Task Force, with New York State Police Investigators assigned to work with the Attorney General's Office. Special hazardous device units were formed and members trained to deal with bombs and other explosive devices in response to the rise in terrorism and bombings across the State.
A New Superintendent - Expansion Resumes
Superintendent William Kirwan retired in 1975, and was replaced by William Connelie, a career officer with the New York City Police Department. Superintendent Connelie rose through the ranks of the NYCPD from patrolman to assistant chief inspector, and was cited 13 times for bravery during his 30 years with the NYCPD. As the State began to recover from the economic difficulties caused by the energy crisis in the first half of the decade, the Division was able to continue the expansion program begun under Superintendent Cornelius.
A program of Laboratory expansion was begun in order to provide better service to the State Police members and local law enforcement agencies dependent on the State Police Crime Laboratory for evidence analysis. In 1978, the Mid-Hudson Regional Crime Laboratory opened in Newburgh.
Satellite offices were established in 1977 in order to save fuel and allow Troopers to spend more time on patrol by stationing them closer to their posts. The program was initiated with 34 Satellite Offices. This number increased to 60 by the end of the decade. In 1977, the first recruit class in two years was authorized and 229 recruit Troopers were hired.
Technology - Communications
Communications improvements continued in the 1970s. A shift to high band radios was initiated to alleviate interference problems in Troops B, D and G in 1970 and extended throughout the Division during the remainder of the decade. At the same time, hand held radios were introduced, providing Troopers who were operating away from their patrol vehicles with critically needed communications. High speed, video equipped terminals were introduced in 1974 and installed statewide in 1975. These terminals provided on-screen message formats and transmitted messages twelve to sixteen times faster than the terminals they replaced. In 1976, the Division added a statewide channel to allow intertroop radio communications. The following year, Division radios were installed in all Thruway cars, to link Troopers patrolling the Thruway to Division cars and installations across the State.
In 1970, a new computer was acquired to upgrade communications and information management and expand communications services to local police departments. As a result, the New York Statewide Police Information System began operating in 1971.
In 1972, the State Police computer system was interfaced with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Service's computerized missing and wanted persons files. The following year the State Police computers were linked with the Department of Motor Vehicles computerized drivers' license and motor vehicle registration files. This provided direct access to these files to conduct immediate checks in response to radio requests from Troopers in the field.
The added computer capacity allowed computerization of field and administrative information management. This evolved into the current Management Information Network. Early applications included maintenance of personnel records, compilation of arrest statistics and recording of time and activity reports.
Highway Safety Technology
A major victory in the war against drunk driving was achieved in 1971. The New York State Court of Appeals upheld the validity of the Breathalyzer for determining the blood alcohol content of intoxicated drivers. This judicial recognition eliminated the need to have scientists from the State Police Crime Laboratory testify to the scientific validity of the procedure at every drunk driving trial involving use of the Breathalyzer. This was a particularly timely decision because Troopers made more than 10,000 DWI arrests in a single year for the first time in 1972.
The use of VASCAR for speed enforcement expanded when 200 units were acquired in 1971. This number was doubled in 1972. In 1975, the State Police acquired its first radar units capable of operating while the Troop car was in motion.
The serious problems of illegal drug use and trafficking that emerged during the 1960s grew to epidemic proportions in the 1970s. The Division was forced to repeatedly increase the resources dedicated to combating illegal drugs. The number of illegal drug arrests made by Division members increased 35% in 1970, 25% in 1971 and 31% in 1972. The Crime Laboratory was inundated with drug cases, not only from the increased number of State Police arrests, but also due to increased arrests by local law enforcement agencies for whom the State Police provides crime laboratory services. By 1972, the Crime Laboratory had a massive backlog of drug cases.
In 1973 the Division received a Federal grant that allowed them to hire fourteen scientists to deal with the drug backlog. By early 1974, the Laboratory was working two shifts in order to deal with the drug case load. New instrumentation was also acquired, including a gas chromatograph - mass spectrometer, an instrument that can indisputably identify drugs and other chemical substances; the State Police was one of the first forensic laboratories in the nation to have this sophisticated capability.
One of the toughest drug laws in the nation, mandating life in prison for serious drug crimes, took effect at the end of 1973. As a result, drug dealers began to shift their operations to adjacent states with less stringent laws. When undercover State Police Investigators made a deal to buy a pound of cocaine, the dealers insisted that they take delivery in Vermont because the dealers did not want to risk the severe penalties for drug sales in New York State. Drug arrests declined 16.7% in 1974.
Highway safety and traffic enforcement received renewed attention. In an effort to conserve gasoline, speed limits were reduced to a maximum of 55 m.p.h. This had an unexpected benefit, as noted by Superintendent Kirwan in the 1973 Annual Report, "Shortage of gasoline has had a wholesome impact on traffic. The lower speed limits...and the reduction in travel were the main factors accounting for a decline of 16% in accidents investigated in November and 28% in December."
Federal grant money was obtained to establish dedicated highway safety task forces. Federal money was also obtained to greatly expand the use of VASCAR, with 400 units placed in service between 1971 and 1972. The attention to traffic enforcement resulted in a 9.6% decline in accidents in 1974 and a 27% decrease in fatal accidents, a trend that continued through the rest of the decade.
Riots and Social Unrest
In its first decade, the State Police earned the respect and admiration of the public for its efficient and effective response to labor and prison riots. In the 1970s, they repeated their previous performance. Troopers were called repeatedly to restore order at prison riots at Auburn in 1970 and Attica in 1971. In 1979, prison guards went on strike and the State Police worked twelve hour shifts for 16 days as 25% of the force provided perimeter security, traffic control and monitored picket lines and the balance of the Division maintained State Police services across the State.
Prisons were not the only places that where Troopers had to deal with public disturbances. In 1970, 600 students blocked the New York State Thruway at exit 24 to protest the entrance of United States troops into Cambodia. And in 1971, a riot ignited by racial bias broke out on the campus of the State University at Cobleskill. In 1974, Troopers were called to maintain order when a group of Mohawk Indians occupied a girl's camp on Moss Lake. This was the beginning of a three year duty, and presaged more serious incidents involving Native Americans that would occupy a significant portion of the Division's attention and resources in the coming years.
Throughout the turmoil and difficulties of the 1970s, one thing remained constant for the State Police: whenever disaster struck anywhere in New York, the victims could count on the State Police to be there with assistance. In 1972, the Southern Tier was ravaged by some of the most serious flooding in State History. Water raged 25 feet deep in the City of Corning. The State Police evacuated hundreds of people and provided emergency communications as all normal communications were knocked out. In 1977, a three day blizzard paralyzed the State. Troopers struggled through twenty foot drifts and zero visibility to rescue stranded motorists and bring medical assistance and emergency supplies to snowbound residents.
Troopers provided a wide range of public services in addition to natural disaster relief. In 1973, a rock concert in Watkins Glen attracted 600,000 fans, three times the number that attended the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Troopers provided traffic control, emergency assistance and police protection without serious incident, once again earning praise for their effectiveness. In 1976, 225 State Police members provided security for the U.S. Olympic Team as it practiced in Plattsburgh prior to the Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada. Their experience was valuable in preparation for policing the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
The Division reached out to underprivileged youngsters when Superintendent Connelie initiated the State Police Summer Program in 1976. Children from economically disadvantaged urban neighborhoods were provided the opportunity to spend a week at the State Police Academy, experiencing some of the simple pleasures of childhood and forming friendships with Troopers in a relaxed setting.
Throughout the decade, the State Police maintained and enhanced its reputation as a source of service and assistance to people in need, as well as being an effective, efficient law enforcement agency.