Gloversville PD seeks clearer to handle drug overdose data

GLOVERS VILLE – City officials have denied a request by the Leader-Herald to interview the two Gloversville Police Department officers — Detective Chris Zink and patrol officer Destin Brooker — featured in the controversial two-part News Channel 13 television news series looking at the phenomenon of opioid overdoses in the city

GPD Captain Michael Garavelli and Mayor Vince DeSantis on Monday said interview access to Zink and Brooker will not be allowed, but did not elaborate on the reasons why.

“Because the answer is no,” DeSantis said, indicating no further details would be provided at this time.

The broadcast of the two-part series has shined a spotlight on drug-overdose statistics in Gloversville as well as the GPD itself and its use of the computer-aided dispatch and “New World Records Management System,” a shared program being used by all of the local law enforcement agencies in Fulton County.

Garavelli appears to have been performing the duties of acting chief in the absence of Gloversville Police Chief Anthony “Tony” Clay, who was interviewed for part one of the television series produced by reporter Tessa Bentulan.

City officials have said Clay has not been fired, but he will be retiring at the end of the year. Officials with knowledge of the situation have said DeSantis and members of the Common Council were blindsided by the TV series, which Clay did not tell them about until the day it was broadcast. DeSantis and others have been critical that the TV series did not present Gloversville’s drug overdose statistics in context compared with other cities in the region, which have significantly higher numbers of drug overdoses and fatalities.

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Gloversville’s drug-related statistics have come into question since the series aired.

Earlier this month Garavelli submitted a written report to the Common Council indicating the drug-related statistics being generated by the GPD in recent months may be wrong.

“Due to ongoing issues with the New World Records Management System, the statistics obtained might not be true and accurate. Some statistics were not able to be retrieved from the system,” reads Garavelli’s written report to the Council. “The department is working to rectify this issue with an internal audit of all tickets issued.”

From Jan. 1 through June 16, Gloversville had 35 suspected drug overdoses with three suspected fatal drug overdoses, according to data from the federal system called the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Overdose Mapping and Application Program.

The Fulton County District Attorney’s office provides HIDTA with numbers related to drug overdoses, fatal or non-fatal, using data voluntarily provided by the law enforcement agencies in Fulton County, which comes from the New World Records Management System used by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department , the GPD and the Johnstown Police Department.

Overdose numbers provided by the GPD show overdoses in Gloversville skyrocketed by 85.3% in the 90 days between June 16 and Sept. 14, a total increase of 28 suspected overdose calls, bringing the total to 63. During that time period, the number of suspected fatal drug overdoses more than doubled, increasing from three to eight — an increase of 166%. On Aug. 22, Gloversville had its only instance of fentanyl-related overdose so far this year.

The HIDTA shows drug-overdose-related EMS calls throughout New York state also increased during the same time period as the increase in Gloversville, but by a significantly smaller percentage increase.

From Jan 1 to June 16, there were 10,149 overdose EMS calls throughout the state. During the summer, the calls increased by 65% ​​to 16,798 total calls by Sept. 14. Suspected overdose fatalities in New York state rose by the same percentage, 65%, from 1,156 by June 16 to 1,902 by Sept. 14. — less than helped the percentage increase in Gloversville over the period.

Garavelli said he isn’t certain whether Gloversville’s drug-overdose statistics are higher or lower than the true numbers for the city, although he suspects they are mostly accurate.

“I spent four hours going through it last Monday just trying to unsort what’s true and what’s not, and part of that is the system,” Garavelli said. “I think it’s all leveling out because it’s more of just a reporting issue within the system itself. That’s the problem. It’s growing pains within the system.”

Acting Fulton County District Attorney Amanda Nellis has said she believes the true drug overdose statistics for Gloversville, Fulton County and the rest of the state are likely higher than reported because many incidents are never properly recorded. She also said she knows some GPD officers have edited reports that were previously recorded as “unresponsive victim” calls into drug overdose calls because their police work has shown those calls to be drug-related even though the system had not recorded them as such.

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Garavelli Monday confirmed that what Nellis said about GPD officers changing some “unresponsive victim” EMS calls into drug overdose calls is true. He said he believes there are multiple reasons why some EMS calls aren’t labeled drug overdose calls when they should be, but it also goes the other way.

“Sometimes a call comes in as an overdose, and it turns out not to be an overdose,” Garavelli said. “Labeling an overdose in the system is a misnomer, so it has to be corrected on that end. So, something that goes in as a sick person, turns out to be an overdose, so it can go both ways. It’s an active struggle everyday. I did it first thing this morning when I walked in, and I had to change a couple of them that were labeled a drug overdose where it turned out that they were not.”

Part one of the TV series showed body cam footage with a date stamp indicating it came from a GPD officer on July 15. The officers in the footage are not identified.

The complete list of the overdose calls in July show the only July 15 overdose call responded to by the GPD was at 6 pm, nine minutes prior to the start of the time stamp on the body cam footage used in the series at 18:09: 50 (6:09:50pm). There is also an unexplained 48-second time jump in the body cam footage at 18:10:02, which then skips to 18:10:50, where a dispatch officer from the car’s radio can be heard saying, “According to the caller , the female is not breathing,” which was captioned for the TV broadcast.

Part two of the series featured a profile of Zink and Brooker, and depicts a police ride-along with News Channel 13’s Tessa Bentulan. The ride-along footage does not include a date for when it occurred, a date for when a second drug overdose call is depicted in the story or the identity of a person with a second video camera shown inside the police cruiser by footage taken from the police cruiser’s dash camera.

During part two of the series, footage of a person being put into an ambulance outside of the home of where police responded to a drug call is shown, but it is unclear who filmed the footage or when it occurred.

Garavelli on Monday said he is unaware of any state Freedom of Information Law requests that may have been filed by News Channel 13 for access to the bodycam and dashcam footage used for the series.

“If there was, I have no knowledge of it,” he said.

Bentulan has said News Channel 13 reached out to multiple police agencies seeking to do a story about the ongoing opioid overdose crisis in America and the Capital Region, including the Schenectady Police Department, but that only the GPD were willing to “peal back the curtain” on the problem.

She said GPD officers did not reach out to her station to pitch the story.


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