Sheriff Apple, unopposed, cites programs for addicts, veterans

Craig Apple

ALBANY COUNTY — Craig Apple is running unopposed for county sheriff, a post he has held since June 2011 when his predecessor, James Campbell, suddenly resigned after 21 years at the helm.

Apple, who had been with the department for more than two decades before that, had the support of the full Albany County Democratic Committee when he ran in the fall of 2011.

During his tenure, Apple arranged to lease the former elementary school in Clarksville to create a public safety center there, used for both police work and court.

Earlier this month, Apple announced a pilot program at the county jail, which offers help to five addicted inmates who volunteered for the program. This is the latest of a series of programs he has introduced at the jail, including having inmates do public works projects, creating a program for veterans who work with Soldier On, having inmates train dogs that live with them at the jail, and having inmates garden at the jail.

Apple is working on a $23 million county-wide communication system and supports building a controversial tower on Edwards Hill in Rensselaerville, saying that it would allow emergency responders throughout Albany County to talk by radio and prevent the kind of communication problems that occur regularly now.

Apple had these comments on a series of issues raised by The Enterprise:

Taser use

In August, the sheriff’s office revised its policy on use of Tasers, a brand of stun gun. “Listen, I firmly believe that people have a tendency to be too quick with the Taser,” Apple said. (See editorial on page 2.)

The new policy on Tasers — and the new policy on pepper spray (OC, or oleoresin capsicum) — both now contain one additional line: “If possible, members should avoid using Taser equipment (OC) on passively resisting suspects.”

Apple said that the idea was to restrict the number of repeated tasings of a single suspect that would be allowed as well as the kinds of situations in which use of the Taser would be justified.

Apple sees both the merits and the potential problems of Taser use. “I understand that they’re trying to keep the officers safe, I get that, and you’re also trying to keep the other person safe by not having to hit him with a stick or pepper spray them, or whatever force you have to utilize … I think the Taser’s an incredibly safe weapon, and I think it has saved a lot of lives. There are some horrific cases out there where it has taken a life.”

Apple said that he has been “extremely proactive” — even firing a sergeant for using one. (Sergeant Vincent P. Igoe was suspended in August 2014 as the sheriff’s office investigated his use of a Taser on a teenager who was kneeling in front of officers with his hands on his head following a high-speed chase; Igoe then resigned in July 2015.)

Apple was asked if he thinks there is a problem with his deputies vindictively tasing people who are noncompliant.

He said no, but that recent incidents across the country had shown that multiple tasings of a single suspect is “probably not the best thing to do.”

“We’re trying to resist the amount of tasings, as well as exactly when to utilize the Taser, he said. “I do firmly believe that some people are just a little too quick to go to the Taser.”


Christian Clark, superintendent of Albany County’s jail, told The Enterprise last year, “We are seeing an increase of folks who are coming in with heroin dependency or charges with selling or using heroin.”

This month, Apple started the Sheriff’s Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (SHARP). He said that he hopes that the program will help turn jail into a positive and even life-changing experience for inmates who are addicted to drugs but want to quit. Anyone completing the program will be given Vivitrol — a non-addictive opiate-blocking drug — on the way out of jail, and driven straight to whatever treatment program has been deemed necessary.

In jail, Apple said, “Let’s face it, I have their [inmates’] undivided attention.” So, he said, “Let’s give them an opportunity; hey, if you want to lead a clean and healthy life, then let’s live it.”

When an inmate is admitted to the jail, Apple said, staff will ask if he or she is addicted to any medications or narcotics. If the answer is yes — “Listen, a lot of inmates will come in and lie to us,” said Apple — staff will ask if he or she would like to be admitted to the separate treatment tier where the SHARP is run.

If the answer to that question is also yes, then, said Apple, “We have another candidate for our wing,” where there are strict guidelines and the inmate must first come down off any drugs and then undergo intensive treatment and counseling. 

Following this intensive program, when the inmate is “clean and sober and ready for release,” Apple said, the inmate will receive extended-release Vivitrol, a brand name for naltrexone, which works by blocking the effects of narcotics or alcohol, and preventing a “high”; its effectiveness lasts for one month. If the inmate is to be released, the sheriff’s office will drive him or her directly to whatever type of treatment center — such as an addiction care center or halfway house — has been deemed necessary.

“The Vivitrol is $900-and-something a shot,” Apple said. “And what I like about it is it’s also a nonnarcotic. It’s not like suboxone; it’s not like methadone. Both of those are still narcotics; this is not.” The Vivitrol is being donated free of charge by the manufacturer.

The sheriff said that he really prays to God that it’s a successful program. He expects it will be. A year ago, his office worked with the Soldier On program to better serve the needs of and try to reduce recidivism among incarcerated veterans by housing them in a separate ward and offering services customized to each individual.

“In the Soldier On program, the recidivism rate is 2 percent, it’s actually less than 2 percent. And that’s unheard of,” Apple said. “So it’s working.”


Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Standing in front of Albany County's jail, Jack Downey, founder of Soldier On talks to members of the American Legion Riders from the Helderberg Post 977 in Altamont, who donated $15,000 to the program for veterans in the jail.


Suicide in jail

Adam Rappaport, 29 and addicted to heroin, hanged himself in Albany County’s jail a year ago. A report by the World Health Organization, “Preventing Suicide in Jails and Prisons,” states, “Jails and prisons are repositories for vulnerable groups that are traditionally among the highest risk for suicide, such as young males, persons with mental disorders, socially disenfranchised, socially isolated, people with substance use problems, and those who have previously enacted suicidal behaviours.”

Superintendent Clark told The Enterprise following Rappaport’s death that Albany County’s jail had no written form for arresting officers to communicate with jail staff. “In many ways, suicide prevention begins at the point of arrest,” says the World Health Organization report. Further, reports from both the World Health Organization and the Federal Bureau of Prisons find that most suicides occur when inmates are alone, housed in single cells. While the county jail is constructed in such a way that most of the cells are single, some prisons have successfully used a system that pairs at-risk inmates with “buddy” inmates.

Finally, Rappaport, on admission to the jail, voluntarily went through a physical exam by hospital staff because of his heroin addiction but, because he didn’t show many symptoms, no further action was taken.

Apple was asked about the lack of a written form for arresting officers to ensure good communication with jail staff about any concerns, and whether some kind of written form should be introduced.

He said, “That’s not true,” referring to the statement that there is no written form for arresting officers to communicate with jail staff.

“First of all, a lot of times, normally, the officers would convey that [any concerns about drug use or suicidal ideation] to the judge as well, and the judge puts it on the actual commitment: ‘mental health evaluation requested.’ Every inmate goes through a mental health evaluation anyway. But, if they tell us that there’s an issue, we get Mental Health down there almost immediately, to grab him and screen him, and we’ll put him on a mental health tier, if that’s deemed necessary.”

If an officer brings in an inmate, Apple continued, and says, “This person was just talking crazy in the back of the car, and I’m afraid that he may hurt himself,” that immediately goes on the form. “We have a form in our booking system where that is checked off, and then he is seen by Medical.”

Emergency medical technicians

The Albany County Sheriff’s Office had a plan last year to relieve the local ambulance volunteers who are aging and fewer in number by supplying a paid emergency medical technician for three of the Hilltowns. Members of the Westerlo ambulance squad felt pushed aside by this and the town board scrapped the idea for the budget year, although Berne and Rensselaerville had agreed to budget for the $94,700 plan.

The Voorheesville squad, short on daytime volunteers, had also used paid EMTs from the county but has since switched to a private agency for help.

Asked the sheriff what role, if any, the sheriff’s office should play in providing paid medical help to municipalities, Apple said, “Well, we provide it, we contract with towns right now, and provide an EMT service, and not only EMT, but we give you paramedics as well. The EMT service is a vital component to public safety, I firmly believe that.”

In Voorheesville, he said, “Volunteerism is on a drastic decline. Now, it’s very sad when you have a volunteer ambulance squad, and you’re paying all your people. Because it’s not volunteer any more! That’s what’s happening all over New York.

“All we say is, ‘Listen, we can provide the same service. You’re paying people now, and you’re wasting tax dollars.’ There’s like a quarter-of-a-million dollars that they had in reserve that they were going to pay people to come down and ride on their ambulance…

“We need the volunteers to survive. All we were looking to do is augment the volunteers and help them at times when they’re short-staffed, and we continue to do it every day, all over the county.”

Asked about the Westerlo squad feeling pushed aside, Apple said, “I disagree with that 1,000 percent. We have never ever pushed anybody aside. We’ve gone to them and said, ‘Listen, we’re here.’ Do you know how many calls we’ve picked up for ambulances that cannot get a box out of the station? Quite honestly, if you’re having a medical emergency, do you really care who is coming, as long as somebody is coming?

“So we’re not pushing anybody aside, he continued, because there’s no way we could pick it all up ourselves. We need the volunteers, and the volunteers — whether they agree with me or not — need us, too.

“If you can’t get an ambulance out of your station, somebody’s got to answer that call. Just so you know how it works, the tone will go out. Three minutes later, the tone will go out. Three minutes later, the tone will go out.

“If nobody’s answered, now we’ve got six minutes passed, and, if nobody’s answered yet, they put it out again, and then they call a neighboring ambulance. Then three minutes go by, and they put out that call again. Pretty soon, three, six, nine, 12, and nobody’s answering. Fifteen minutes, and you’re on the floor having a heart attack or a stroke. You know?

“Somebody needs to step up, and step in, and that’s what we’ve done. We’re not looking to take anything over. But I’m looking to augment the volunteer service. We need the volunteers.”

Apple traces the downturn in volunteers to the economic recession that hit seven years ago. “People couldn’t stay home and volunteer,” he said. “Wives needed to go back to work, husbands needed to go back to work. Some people worked two jobs, three jobs, whatever the case may be. And those were the people that were riding the ambulance during the day. And it’s tough.”

Apple concluded, “We’re not looking to push anybody, we’re looking to work with everybody.

Public safety tower

The sheriff’s office is proposing to build a 180-foot radio communications tower on Edwards Hill in Rensselaerville, which it says is needed for point-to-point microwave communication, part of a $23 million county-wide communication system. Some Rensselaaearville residents strenuously object to the tower proposal because they say it will ruin scenic views of the Catskills on which they pay taxes and which attract tourists to the area.

Apple said the new tower is necessary “in order to be able to communicate with the fire, EMS, and police that respond in these areas.”

He went on, “One of the biggest difficulties down there now is the lack of interoperable communications. Nobody can talk to anybody, and sometimes they can’t even talk to us — the sheriff’s office — when they’re trying to respond to a call.

“You’d think we would have learned, at 9/11,” he said, “when nobody could talk to anybody. One of the biggest issues that came out of that: You need interoperable communications. People need to be able to talk with other disciplines of public safety.”

There are some people who really don’t want it, Apple said. Those people are taking a “not in my backyard” stance, he said. He understands their view, he said, but still firmly believes that “90-some percent of that town want the system.”

Apple said that there have been “countless” times, throughout the county, “where people can’t talk to anybody.”

Right now in Albany County, he said, “Colonie police can’t talk to Albany police. Colonie police can’t talk to the sheriff’s office. I mean, that’s the problem we’re running into. So this system puts everybody on the same system and allows everybody to talk to everybody throughout the county. So a Cohoes cop, or a Cohoes fireman, can talk to a Rensselaerville fireman.”

The problems that this tower will address, he said, are not just in Rensselaerville, but countywide.

Apple said that officials have tested site after site after site. And this system that would link all the towers in the county together needs to be strategically positioned, able to shoot a signal to the next tower, if it is to serve that purpose. And there need to be no gaps in communication in Rensselaerville.

This spot, he said, “was deemed the absolute best location in Rensselaerville, to fill all the voids and coverage gaps.” There is already one in Westerlo, he said, and one in Coeymans. “They’re all over the place. And it links everybody together. And then it also links us to Saratoga County.”

Apple concluded, “We want everybody to know what’s going on. We’re not trying to force it down their throats; we’re just simply trying to protect everybody.”

Asset forfeiture

Albany County has at its discretion assets from money and property seized during criminal arrests. A Voorheesville man—Jason Rudebush—arrested for drug possession, for example, had his car confiscated and said that made it impossible for him to get to his job and support his family.

Asked in what kinds of drug-related crimes a suspect’s car and cash is taken, Apple said, “If you’re using that car to promote and conduct illegal activity, you’re going to probably lose your car. If you’re driving around and peddling eight balls and peddling bags of heroin and everything else, we’re probably going to seize your car.”

The amount of money acquired by the sheriff’s office, he said “depends on the cases, it depends on the size of the case. But, again, taking property like that is not something that’s routinely done. Unless, again, they are running an illegal business out of that vehicle.”

Apple said the money from seized goods is pooled “into trying to support a lot of community affairs, and also to further law-enforcement investigations, whether it be funding overtime, or buying surveillance equipment, or something to that effect.”

Asked about written guidelines or an accounting method for the seized good and cash, Apple said, “No, I do have an account of seizing assets…Normally we don’t seize assets, so to speak. If somebody is arrested with $10,000 in cash, all rolled up in twenties, and we can prove that this change from selling drugs or whatever, yeah, we’re going to seize that. But again, the car is kind of unusual. Unless, again, they were running an illegal operation out of that car.”

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