New Oneonta police chief ‘humbled’ by role


New Oneonta police chief ‘humbled’ by role

By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to

The Oneonta Police Department has a new chief of police, Christopher Witzenberg, who has a long history of serving in leadership roles.

Witzenberg was previously an OPD lieutenant and became acting chief after Doug Brenner retired last winter.

“It’s humbling,” Witzenberg said. “I’ve been pretty pensive the last week about the things I’ve done to
get here.”

Witzenberg, who also served as the Oneonta PBA president, said he was “fortunate to have worked
in different capacities in the police department” including working on criminal interdiction, which involves gang investigations or serial criminals, and working as a patrol sergeant, which Witzenberg said was the “most rewarding position I’ve had in my career, because I had the most direct contact with officers.”

Originally from Smithtown, Long Island, Witzenberg moved to the area while attending SUNY Oneonta. He became an on-call firefighter while in school and drove a concrete truck at the same time.
“I kind of realized the fire service wasn’t for me. I’d taken a few police tests and Oneonta called me first,” Witzenberg said.

Working as a police officer here presents different challenges, he said. “It’s a very different
perspective,” Witzenberg said. “We get called to emergencies and deal with a broad section of emergency responses.”

Witzenberg called being a police officer a “very interesting career.”

One of the things Witzenberg said he wants to push for is more use of data-driven police work in order to make sure the police are “using our resources in the most efficient way possible.”

“When you say community police it’s really about getting into the community,” Witzenberg said.
The highest volume of calls concern mental health in the area which, he said, are people who are “fairly local” and might be here because of the services provided in the area.

Witzenberg said Oneonta used to be much worse when it came to fighting in bars but it had “gotten much better over the past 20 years.”

The reason for this, Witzenberg believes, is the OPD decided to change the approach when dealing with underage drinking and over-serving, putting the emphasis on approaching bar owners rather than patrons. He also said the police make sure people who throw house parties are warned in advance, because sometimes there were “over 150” people and in other towns, floors have collapsed.

“We don’t want to see that happen in this community so we try to stay ahead of it,” Witzenberg said.

Witzenberg’s appointment has raised some concerns from the community regarding comments he made in respect to pretext stops, which is when you pull someone over in order to investigate something else. Oneonta resident Daniel Dreier said, during Common Council on Tuesday, Oct. 5, Witzenberg would use pretext stops under a different name.

“This is obviously unacceptable,” Dreier said.

In response, Witzenberg said pretext stops are “incredibly complex” and “very valuable” under certain circumstances. He said abuse by them is a topic of national conversation, and different than how he would use them.

Witzenberg said now that he is police chief, he is looking forward to getting a lieutenant as a second-in-command.

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