Red Hook police chief steps down

Red Hook’s first chief of police, Jim Truitt, has resigned after a three-year stint, saying he has done what he set out to do.

Truitt submitted his official resignation to the Red Hook Village Board on July 2, effective immediately.

“I told [former] Mayor David Cohen that my [plan] was to work my way out of the job in three years. It wasn’t meant to be a long-range thing — I’d already put in a whole career in law enforcement. I wouldn’t have even done this if I didn’t live in the area and have kids in the school district,” Truitt told The Observer.

According to both Truitt and Mayor Ed Blundell, who was a trustee when Truitt was hired, Truitt’s goal in taking the top spot was to shape up a police department that didn’t even have a chief. Truitt’s qualifications included 20 years as a Town of Poughkeepsie police officer and sergeant.

“At the time of my arrival, there were 14 police officers [on the force], all of exactly the same rank, like 14 ducks lined up in a row,” said Truitt. “Frankly, it was kind of being run like a Cub Scout pack.”

Truitt said that, instead of following protocol and establishing a rank system, the department had established an “Officer in Charge” to oversee the full-time and part-time force.

“There was zero training for the job,” Truitt noted. “The officer would be working for a year, sometimes even less, and suddenly be in charge of the police department. Quite frankly, it’s ludicrous.”

In larger police precincts, he said, officers have to work for five years before they are even eligible to take the police supervisor exam.

As soon as he took over, Truitt established a rank system, selecting former “Officer in Charge” Patrick Hildenbrand as Provisional Sergeant. He also weeded out officers, full-time and part-time, whom he called “more interested in self-service than civil service.”

Truitt hired veteran officers from other precincts, municipalities, and agencies to work short, paid tenures to “not only do the job, but to teach the job” to his Red Hook officers.

Despite an annually shrinking police budget –and concurrently shrinking department –Truitt has morphed the force from what he describes as a “good ol’ boy network” into a viable department over the course of three short years.

“In the end what we have is, we’ve developed a great, effective police department for the village,” Blundell said.

Hildenbrand, now the RHPD’s highest-ranking officer, had only words of praise for his former boss. Truitt was “an excellent supervisor,” he said, who “has helped me get so many things in order at the RHPD and without his years of expertise, it would have been difficult to do.”

But, he added, the Red Hook Police Department will continue to thrive.

“We have a very professional department and we will initially feel the effects of not having Chief Truitt here, but we will move forward and continue our professional service to the residents of Red Hook,” Hildenbrand said.

Truitt plans to continue his work at SUNY Ulster, where he is a tenured associate professor and the chairperson for the Department of Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

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