Sunday, June 14, 2020

Reforming and Reinventing the HPD

Governor Andrew Cuomo spent a great part of his press briefing today talking about the NYS Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, the executive order that requires local police agencies to "develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input." The governor's official statement explains that, to be eligible for future state funding, police forces must adopt a plan by April 1, 2021, and certify that they have:
  1. Engaged stakeholders in a public and open process on policing strategies and tools;
  2. Presented a plan, by chief executive and head of the local police force, to the public for comment;
  3. After consideration of any comments, presented such plan to the local legislative body (council or legislature as appropriate) which has approved such plan (by either local law or resolution); and
  4. If such government does not certify the plan, the police force may not be eligible to receive future state funding.
In the press briefing today, Cuomo outlined some of the things the community needs to consider and come to agreement on in creating the plan:
  • Use of force?
  • Budget?
  • Staffing?
  • Demilitarization?
  • Bias?
  • Diversity?
  • Complaint process?
  • Civilian review?

"Start with a blank piece of paper," Cuomo directed. "Redesign your police department."

One of the items on the list--the police budget--has already become a topic of discussion in Hudson, primarily on Instagram.

As Gossips has reported, Council president Tom DePietro responded to Instagram posts that appeared earlier in the month by recommending that people attend the Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, June 16. 

Civilian review has also been discussed in Hudson. In 2015, when she was mayor-elect, Tiffany Martin announced her intention to create a citizens' advisory police committee to provide full transparency on the department's activities, give citizens a way to offer input on police policy, and foster a dialogue between the community and the police--all in the interest of improving relations between the community and the police. Martin reiterated her commitment to such a plan in the town hall meeting in May 2016. It was discussed again in July 2016, after a protest took place in Hudson, sparked by the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, black men shot by police officers, in different parts of the country, within a day of each other. Although everyone seemed on board with the idea at the time, no citizens' advisory police committee--variously called a civilian advisory board and a community liaison board--was ever formed.
Another item on Cuomo's list, the demilitarization of the police is a topic of impassioned discussion in Hudson every time the Shared Services Response Team is deployed in the city, which happens about once a year. The last time it happened, in February 2020, Police Commissioner Peter Volkmann told community members, "We have the responsibility to collaborate better," and promised to work toward better communication. "Let the struggle begin," said Volkmann. "Community conversations will lead to community solutions. Let's have these hard conversations." The pandemic may be to blame this time, but, to Gossips' knowledge, those "hard conversations" have not begun. Perhaps now that they are mandated by the governor's executive order they will, and perhaps, because we've been trying to grapple with the issues for a while now, Hudson will be ahead of the game.

Yesterday, in an interview with Michel Martin on NPR's All Things Considered about the history of policing and race in the United States, Keisha Blain, a history professor at the University of Iowa, said that the first police force was established in Boston in the 1830s. That claim, coupled with Cuomo's urging that communities start with a blank piece of paper to re-imagine their police departments, made me curious about the beginning of the police force here in Hudson. I was quite sure it predated the 1830s, and I was right. Franklin Ellis' History of Columbia County recounts the creation of the Hudson Police Department in this way:
For ten years prior to 1798 the safety of the city at night had been committed to the care of volunteer watch-men, taken in rotation from a body of citizens, who, to promote the well-being of themselves and their property, had mutually agreed to perform such service; and they received recognition from the council, so far as to be invested with authority to arrest (while on duty) any persons whom they might consider as suspicious or dangerous to the public peace.
But in the year above mentioned, it having been thought advisable to form a regular night-watch, to be appointed by and wholly under control of the city government, it was ordained by the council, January 9,--
"That from and after the publication of this Ordinance, a Night-watch be kept by such persons as the Common Council shall, from time to time, appoint for that purpose, who, or at least two of them, shall constantly and Silently patrole the several Streets in the City from the hour of 10 O'Clock in the evening until daylight in the morning, and Who are hereby empowered to stop and take up all and every person of Suspicious appearance or that do not give a satisfactory Account of themselves to the said Watchmen, and him or them Safely keep in a watch House or to commit him or them to the Bridewell or Gaol of the said City; and the keeper of the said Bridewell or Gaol is hereby authorized and required to take and keep all and every such Suspicious persons until they can have a further examination before the legal authority of said City.
"And in case any fire shall be discovered in the night season, the said watchmen shall give immediate alarm to the Firemen, Bell-man, and other citizens, and in all respects shall use their indeavors to preserve the City from fire, and also to Keep the peace thereof."
This was the first establishment of a police force in Hudson.
A footnote in Ellis explains that the original group of watchmen was called the Citizens' Night-Watch. It was organized "chiefly as a protection against incendiarism or accidental fire." The group was first recognized by the Common Council on January 5, 1788, five years after the city's founding and three years after its incorporation.  


  1. I find this whole discussion so sad. I can't even get the Police Commissioner-- yes, we have one -- who was appointed by the Mayor, to respond to an email. The root of most organizational dysfunction in a democracy is responsiveness--or lack therof. We shall see.

    1. Given the seriousness of the mess around the country, my comment was too cryptic. After the recent killing of the young man on Front street and a surge of guns and drug arrests I reached out to the Police Commissioner (who is not the Police Chief, who I think is doing a terrific job) as the man who should lead the community discussion on these issues since he is a political appointee of the Mayor. That is certainly a discussion we should be having. And with the Cuomo police reform initiative we have even more reason for such talks.

    2. Crime is actually down....there is no surge of drug and gun arrest...Good Grief Pete do you have any idea why folks don’t want to work or respond to you?

    3. Thanks “Good Grief” for the classic display of political gaslighting!

      All but the laziest readers can see that Meyer’s comment is ONLY about public access and participation.

      In the manner of a true demagogue then, you manipulatively rephrased his meaning as the alleged reason for why "folks" - by which you mean public servants because that’s who he meant – decline to respond to him.

      But as we see below in subsequent comments, even a City official has now complained about that same want of responsiveness from City Hall.

      Considering the anti-democratic spirit of your comment which is worded to seem like its exact opposite, less cautious readers must be alerted to such rank manipulation.

      Discussions about police reform will require care and diplomacy. Judging from the above comment, you’re that same tedious individual who only anticipates an opportunity to grandstand.

    4. Who was the city official? Steve sure is not. Good Grief all you “folks” do is grip about things? Unheimlich no one said furgary so why are you commenting I assumed that was your trigger word...grandstand no i was giving Pete a chance to look in the mirror. How bout stop waiting on the government to save you and go do the work on your own. Less cautious readers Good Grief you must be lonely.

  2. For what it is worth, our Police Commissioner, Peter Volkmann, failed to respond to my emails as well. My issue was traffic safety, as to which, surprising as it may be, under the Hudson Code, the Police Commissioner, rather than either the Mayor or the Common Council, is vested with the power to manage as the final authority.

    I also think highly of our police chief, Ed Moore, but on traffic safety, he, along with the DPW head, Rob Perry (who appears to have no statutory authority whatsoever over the issue, even though perhaps he thinks he does), Mr. Moore unfortunately in my opinion has not done a good job. A case in point is his handling of my plea for a stop sign on North Second Street going south at the Robinson Street intersection. The building that sits right next to the sidewalk on the northeast corner of Robinson and Second Street, together with the steep incline of Second Street to the north, causes that intersection to be a blind spot for cars that turn left off of Robinson Street to go south on Second Street. After more than one plea to Mr. Moore to investigate the issue, he, and perhaps Mr. Perry, decided that in lieu of a stop sign, yellow orange paint would be slapped on the curbs to prohibit parking. He described the curb paint job as a “test.” That made zero sense to me, first because what creates the blind spot is not parked cars, but rather the above described building and hill, and second, just how does the festooning of the curbs with paint constitute test that resolves anything? Is the “test” of the paint approach deemed a success when no auto accident occurs for a month thereafter or something? If that was the idea, it’s facially ludicrous.

    So, months later we have the garish orange yellow paint on the curbs, no stop sign, and an intersection just as blind and dangerous as it was before. If you do anything other than inch into the intersection after doing a complete stop, with you eyes pealed to the right to make sure there is no vehicle that suddenly appears as it approaches the top of the hill zooming along at 30 miles per hour (the speed limit, but dangerously fast – in most of Hudson the 30 mile per hour speed limit is dangerously fast, and that is another issue I have raised that has been put on ignore by the powers that be over the last few years), you run the risk of a vehicular collision. I know, because I had to learn the hard way, by slamming on the brakes a couple of times to avoid such a collision.

    [to be continued]

    1. In re: the City speed limit -- 30 mph is the state-mandated minimum for city streets except within 1/4 mile of a school zone (then it's 20 mph).

    2. Except that a municipality can secure through state legislation allowing for a lower default speed limit than 30 mph, as NYC and a few other municipalities have done, dropping the default speed limit down to 25 mph. Didi Barrett has offered to carry such legislation for the City of Hudson, but there was zero interest from the local power structure in doing so, so here we are with unacceptable level of danger when it comes to vehicles and streets and pedestrians. That is my opinion based on experience. I spent some time researching this issue, and truck routes and other such matters pertaining to street safety and use. The notion that Hudson is powerless to do anything on these matters is nothing but an urban legend - with little or no nexus to the facts. But I will leave the truck route issue for another time. I don't want there to be sensory overload here.

  3. [part 2]

    What is needed is for the Police Commissioner to do his job, and do it competently. That means, when a citizen raises a traffic safety issue, for the Police Commissioner to conduct an investigation, describing to the citizen how and when it will be conducted, and then prepare a report of the results of the investigation for comment, and then make a final decision, setting forth the factual basis of the decision. All of this should be in writing and made available to the public. That is the only way to achieve some minimal level of competency on traffic safety issues, along with transparency and accountability.

    Perhaps the Common Council might consider passing a resolution urging the Police Commissioner to do his freaking job as contemplated under Hudson’s statutory code, and do something other than just ignoring citizen communications to him. Perhaps Mr. Volkmann is simply spread too thin to appropriately discharge his duties as Police Commissioner, given his job as the police chief of the Village of Chatham. If so, then he should consider resigning.
    And yes, I admit this post of mine is rather caustic. I find the matter of traffic safety, and the way it has been handled, or not handled, infuriating. Perhaps in this city that is so dysfunctional in so many ways, it will take a vehicular accident involving serious bodily injury to get folks off the dime on this issue. And then I can say if still alive that I told you so. Do I want that? No, hell no. What I want is to take reasonable action now to reduce the risks of that kind of tragedy from happening.

    Is anyone going to be moved out there by my cri de coeur here, resulting in some positive change? We shall see.

  4. Why do we even think that a so-called police commissioner who lives in Chatham, doesn't have an office in Hudson or at the HPD station, doesn't have a direct phone number as commissioner, doesn't respond to emails (my experience, too) and is only expected to show up to one public meeting per month (when they happen) is going to give a hoot about policing, parking and traffic matters (also HPD responsibilities) or even be effective if he did give a crap about Hudson? He gives us the same "let's communicate better" blather, but where is he now?
    Look in the city code on the city website under POLICE CHIEF AND COMMISSIONER - the commissioner is supposed to be the Chief`s boss. On paper Mr. Volkman's list of duties far outnumbers Chief Moore's, but in the real world he does nothing for us. He's just a talking head, and there's hardly any talking going on. Reform, indeed! But good luck with that, because HPD and DPW hold all the power in this town and that is the truly troubling issue. B HUSTON

  5. Good Grief: A new voice with a clever tag.

    Charlie Brown was awkward but kind hearted.

    Mr. Meyer and unheimlich, from what I've read on this blog, have done the work, on their own time, and at their own expense, and haven't waited for any one person or any governmental body to "save" them.

    It has never seemed to me that either of them has ever needed saving. They are articulate and engaged in the community conversation. Which is what we are repeatedly told is the greatest current virtue. Given that, using the word "trigger" to negatively describe someone's passion doesn't seem to be particularly kind.

    Good grief, let's elevate the community conversation.