Activists showed up at a city police commission meeting on Wednesday to express frustration that Kingston wasn’t responding quickly — or forcefully — enough to a rash of complaints about excessive force, racial profiling and other issues.
Since this summer, seven people have filed formal complaints against officers of the Kingston Police Department. The spike in complaints, one of which dates back to 2015, has been fueled by activists from the progressive political action group Citizen Action New York, who have urged people to come forward with accounts of police misconduct. At Wednesday’s meeting Citizen Action community organizer Callie Jayne said the group had documented seven formal complaints against the department in recent months. Jayne added that she had documented “dozens” more allegations in cases where community members declined to make a formal complaint. Asked by a reporter to provide a list of those complaints, Jayne declined, citing privacy concerns and fear of retaliation by police against those who had come forward.
Among those present at the commission meeting was Lisa Royer. Royer has filed a complaint on behalf of her daughter, a 17-year-old senior at Kingston High School for a Nov. 15 incident involving two Kingston cops assigned there as school resource officers. On the day of the incident, Royer said, her daughter suffered a sprained wrist and facial contusions after she stepped in to help a friend who she believed was being “abused” by the two SROs. The officers were responding to a complaint of trespassing on school grounds when they detained the teens a short distance away from the school building. Royer said that in addition to her injuries, her daughter must now attend night school because with the two officers still on the beat, she is afraid to attend day classes.
At a press conference prior to the commission’s meeting, and in public comments during the session, activists expressed frustration at a lack of communication and answers to questions about police use of force and other issues. Jayne said that she was still waiting for a response to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking data on KPD stops broken down by race, use of force incidents and the outcome of all formal complaints filed by civilians.
The calls for increased accountability come two years after the KPD launched a series of police-community forums intended to improve relations between the department and communities of color in Kingston. During that time, KPD Chief Egidio Tinti has stressed “community-oriented policing” and introduced measures including a revamped complaint process and a pilot program of body cameras intended to build community trust. More recently, Mayor Steve Noble said that the department would adopt other initiative requested by activists including routine review of all use of force incidents by city police regardless of whether or not there has been a complaint. Noble, who serves as chair of the police commission, also pledged to produce written reports laying out the commission’s findings and reasoning in all cases of civilian complaints.
But Odell Winfield of the End the New Jim Crow Action Network said despite the supposed embrace of community policing, many members of the department continued to use more hard-edged methods on city streets. Winfield accused the department of engaging in “broken windows” policing. The term refers to a theory that by addressing quality-of-life crimes like public drinking, marijuana use and graffiti, police can create a safer urban environment that discourages more serious lawbreaking. The strategy was widely credited with helping New York City address spiraling crime rates in the early 1990s.
But in Winfield’s view, the strategy results in Midtown Kingston residents being treated like suspects just for walking down the street in their own neighborhoods.
“For two years the community has been meeting with police officers and with the mayor and they have been talking about community policing,” said Winfield. “However our community has been experiencing broken-windows policing. We’re not tolerating broken-windows policing anymore.”