Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Police Matters

In expectation of a large crowd, the Common Council Police Committee meeting was held at the Central Fire Station instead of City Hall last night, but the change of venue seemed not to be justified by the twenty or so people who showed up.

The meeting began with HPD chief Ed Moore presenting his quarterly report. The good news is that in the first three months of 2015 there has been a substantial reduction in crimes against property (burglary, larceny, and vandalism), harassment, neighborhood trouble, noise complaints, and drug violations as compared with the first three of months of 2014. Although in general crime in Hudson is "trending down," the bad and disturbing news is that there were more assaults this year and substantially more incidents of domestic violence.

The next item on the agenda, after the chief's report, was the "shared services response team." At its regular meeting on April 21, the Common Council passed a resolution to have the Hudson Police Department enter into partnership with the Columbia County Sheriff's Department and the Greene County Sheriff's Department to form a response team, also known as a SWAT team, made up of officers from the three agencies, to be available to the three agencies, and the cost of which will be shared by the three agencies.

Chief Moore began by recounting, once again, the history of a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team in Hudson. Moore explained that the City has had a de facto SWAT team for twenty years and has officially had a SWAT team for thirteen years. Recently, the State of New York established regulations for SWAT teams, and Moore, shortly after he became chief, suspended the HPD SWAT team because it was not operating in accordance with those regulations. He did so because having a SWAT team that did not meet the state standards would jeopardize the HPD's accreditation. The shared services agreement provides a way for the HPD to have access to a properly trained, equipped, and commanded SWAT team if and when one is required in the city.

Moore made the point that entering into this shared services agreement actually represented a "reduction in the City's commitment to SWAT." He compared a SWAT team to a fire department's entry team--the team trained and equipped to go first into a dangerous situation. Stressing the importance of proper training for the safety of police officers and everyone else in dangerous situations, Moore recalled that it was eight years ago, almost to the day, that New York State trooper David Brinkerhoff was fatally shot by friendly fire in a SWAT raid on April 24, 2007. Moore assured the group that he would be in charge of SWAT team deployment in the city and spoke of "threshold of danger," "threat matrix," and proportional response.

Prefacing his comments by saying Moore "always exhibited sensitivity to the people of the city," Alderman Rick Rector (First Ward) explained that he had abstained from voting on the resolution because he felt he did not at that time completely understand the pros and cons of the issue. (The vote was taken on April 21; Rector had been appointed to fill the seat left vacant by David Marston on April 13.) Alderman Abdus Miah (Second Ward) then tried to walk back his comments made at the April 21 and his no vote by saying his vote reflected the fears of his constituents.

The first audience member to speak was Supervisor Ed Cross (Second Ward). The gist of his comments seemed to be that he had been all right with things when he didn't know the HPD had a SWAT team, but now that the issue is being publicly discussed, he is frightened. He asked, perhaps rhetorically perhaps not, "How are we going to erase the fear?" and went on to say, "This whole thing scares the mess out of me. SWAT threatens me."

Kaya Weidman of Kite's Nest articulated the concerns of many when she spoke about community accountability. "It is one thing," she told Moore, "to trust an individual, but it is another thing to trust a structure, particularly when we have seen the structure fail elsewhere." Moore assured her that the agreement was year to year. "If it backfires," he said, "it can be dissolved."

Peter Spear commented that much had been said about the opportunity for shared services but little had been said about the need. Moore, who had commented earlier that, in the context of the downward trend in crime in Hudson, asking "Does the city need a SWAT team?" sounded foolish, told Spear that in the past two years, the SWAT team had been deployed six times. The most recent incident occurred on January 23 on Columbia Street, in a situation where someone had a gun.

Katherine Moore asked about "character training, to mitigate the fear that people are walking into a [dangerous] situation with." Chief Moore explained that psychological testing was required to be a member of the SWAT team and there would be psychological training for the team.

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) commented that he saw the SWAT team as a kind of insurance policy--something you hope you never need, but it's there if you do need it. He said he found the proposed K-9 unit "much more objectionable." "K-9 is a terrible symbol of an unfriendly police department," said Friedman, and he questioned whether or not we need a K-9 on a daily basis.

Moore asked those present to give him more time to get his officers to integrate with the community. He reported that more officers are being trained for bike patrol this year and reiterated his commitment to getting officers "out of the car to associate and integrate with the community," acknowledging that, for the most part, the only people his officers know in Hudson are those they have arrested.

At the meeting, a memo from Council president Don Moore was distributed to the members of the Police Committee on the subject of developing a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). At the Common Council meeting on April 21, Alderman Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward) presented the information that the State of New York, through the Office of Mental Health, has recently increased funding for CITs, which work with local law enforcement agencies "to assist in mental health oriented dispute resolution." CITs train police in "deescalating a situation and get the local mental health system to become more responsive in a crisis." It was decided that an ad hoc committee would pursue this.

Chief Moore agreed to have regular meetings with the community and volunteered to have posted office hours when people can come in and speak with him one on one.


  1. Alderman Friedman's characterization comes closest, that SWAT is something you hope you never need, like insurance. Indeed, Chief Moore told me the exact same thing: that he hoped never to have to use it.

    But I'd tweak the alderman's objection to dogs because there's no substitute for drug-sniffing canines where they're really needed, at arriving Amtrak trains.

    If the HPD doesn't get its very own "K-9 unit," can't we just borrow them upon occasion? Has anyone asked whether non-HPD dog units already have jurisdiction in Hudson?

    Even as a random, intermittent presence, sniffer-dogs at the Amtrak station would get the word out that disembarking at Hudson is a risk.

  2. We shouldn't conflate SWAT and K-9 when they're different subjects, each of which merits thoughtful debate. Treating them as a single subject automatically cheapens the debate.

  3. instead of being judged by a jury of our peers, our right as citizens of the U.S., out of fear we surrender this right to the decision making process to an animal.

  4. And I think we need a few more Moores at these meetings!