A female lead — UPD Chief Mary Ritayik defines leadership in challenging times

Mary Ritayik’s appointment to Chief of Police in 2019 was a milestone. She is one of only two women currently holding the rank of chief in the entire SUNY system, and the first woman ever to hold the position in the University Police Department’s (UPD) 50-year history at SUNY New Paltz.

Known by UPD Officer Lilah Bunce as “an amazing leader: someone you can reach out to and look up to,” Ritayik is conscious of her heightened responsibilities as a role model and embraces the challenges head on.

“It feels good that I broke a glass ceiling,” said Ritayik. “But the important thing is to be a mentor to other women, to our students and to our future leaders in law enforcement.”

Ritayik welcomes her responsibilities unswervingly, but she also understands we’re in changing and challenging times. In the last year, Ritayik has witnessed a campus landscape transformed by racial unrest and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The story of COVID-19 in America will always go hand-in-hand with the renewed focus on racial justice following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020. Chief Ritayik openly addressed the situation last summer, and soon after, the College committed to becoming an actively anti-racist institution, through an inclusive, collaborative effort to make meaningful changes.

“College students are dealing with daily losses due to COVID-19 restrictions and impacts on socialization,” said Ritayik. “They are also grappling with issues related to institutionalized racism. It’s an ongoing situation that requires them, and UPD, to be flexible and adaptive on a day-to-day basis.”

For Ritayik, this means being responsive and communicative. Since March 2020, UPD has adjusted protocols to better serve students in mental health-related crises, and has taken several actions toward the College’s commitment to anti-racism as well.

Under Ritayik’s leadership, UPD stated its commitment to become an anti-racist law-enforcement organization. Early steps in this process include UPD’s commitment to transparency; implicit bias and de-escalation trainings; review of policies and procedures to ensure they support an anti-racist culture; and ensuring that all officers are held accountable to these values.

Ritayik also took the lead in the establishment of the College’s new University Police Department Advisory Committee: A group of students, faculty, staff and alumni created to respond to amplified concerns about police reform and police interactions with Black people and other marginalized groups. The committee will be a valuable ally helping the department practice and sustain the best traditions of good community policing on a public university campus.

“As police officers and educators, we are dedicated to working alongside the campus community to build a healthy campus culture,” said Ritayik. “Every interaction UPD has is an educational opportunity for our officers and our community members. In March 2021, there are encouraging signs that brighter days are ahead. The work continues, but we are doing it together.”

Ritayik is a career law enforcement professional who holds a degree in sociology with a concentration in criminology from SUNY Cortland, and earned the Top Grade as a graduate of Westchester County Police Academy. She started her university police career in 1998 at SUNY Purchase before transferring to New Paltz in 2000.  She was promoted to investigator in 2003 and assumed the role of deputy chief in 2013. She also served as interim chief after the resignation in May 2018 of former chief David Dugatkin before being appointed chief in 2019.

Ritayik grew up in Dutchess County and comes from a law enforcement family. Her father had a career as a New York State parole officer. She currently lives in Ulster County with her husband, Lt. John Ritayik of UPD New Paltz, and their two children.

Read more here about the SUNY New Paltz University Police Department.