Monday, January 4, 2021

Police Reform in the City and the County

In early July, Mayor Kamal Johnson appointed the Police Reconciliation and Advisory Commission, the body tasked with developing a plan to reform and reinvent the Hudson Police Department in response to Governor Andrew Cuomo's executive order issued in June. Presumably, the group has been meeting regularly since its creation, but so far its only apparent interaction with the public at large was an online survey conducted in October. The first public meeting regarding police reform policy is to take place in two weeks, on Monday, January 18, at 6:00 p.m. 

In contrast to the approach being taken by the City of Hudson, which to this point has not been a very public process, Columbia County designed what seemed to be a very public process, with a Community Input Panel, an Elected Officials/Law Enforcement Panel, a Plan Review Committee, a hired facilitator, and a robust schedule of Zoom meetings. In October and November, the Zoom meetings featured testimony from the members of the Community Input Panel. In December, they shifted to the Elected Officials/Law Enforcement Panel, the group charged with using the community input to come up with ideas for reform. Following the most recent meetings of the Elected Officials/Law Enforcement Panel, a group of county residents submitted the letter of concerns and questions, which they shared with Gossips. The letter is transcribed below.

Thank you for the opportunity to view the December 16 and 17 sessions of the Elected Official/Law Enforcement Panel. We understand that this group is charged with developing innovative actions for a Columbia County Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan. In our view, the data made available thus far clearly demonstrates the disproportionate impact of arrests and incarceration on minority populations in Columbia County. The first group of 30 citizens [Community Input Panel] included minority persons, some of whom did report episodes of discriminatory treatment and lack of trust in the police.
In the spirit of public participation in producing this plan for our County, we offer the following questions and comments to identify specific areas of existing systemic racial bias and begin to solve the problem of diminished trust in the police:
    1. Defining the problem: Dig deeper into the historic data to identify 'what,' 'how' and 'why' associated with arrests and incarceration; and to identify where racial bias exists in the work done by each of the four police departments. Then, ask what can be done to reduce it. If the data is insufficient, what improvements will make this analysis possible?
    2. Recruitment and training improvements: Is there diversity of men, women, races and ethnic groups on each of the four police forces that reflects the populations served, including corrections facilities? If not, how can recruiting be changed to achieve greater diversity? How can the impact of racial, gender and ethnic sensitivity training be documented and evaluated?
    3. Budget Review: How can police department budgets be reallocated to support innovations? Are there opportunities to better serve each and all community groups?
    4. Trust between Police Departments and their Communities: What can the four police departments do to engender trust and confidence in their communities? What innovations would promote informal interactions to humanize all participants, especially among persons of color? Could the County establish a Citizens' Review Board to increase greater community partnership?
We look forward to the efforts of the Panel to openly acknowledge systemic racism where it exists and to develop innovative solutions that will build broader community trust and safety among all residents, police officers and their respective organizations.   
The letter was signed by the following people: Claire Ackerman (Claverack), Carl Atkins (Canaan), Susan Bane (Claverack), Christine (Spee) Braun (Canaan), Jens Braun (Canaan), Craig Dillon (Canaan), Lee Jamison (Stuyvesant), Peter T. Johnson (Philmont), Jeffrey Kiplinger (Claverack), Brian Lifsec (Canaan), Becky Meier (Canaan), Dale Peterson (Copake) Louise Roback (Stockport), Marcella Rosen (Canaan), Stephanie Sussman (Claverack), Joyce Thompson (Taghkanic), Katie Vorwald (Stuyvesant), and Larry Waite (Kinderhook).

The four police departments referenced in the letter are the Sheriff's Department and the police departments of Greenport, Stockport, and Philmont.

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