Family of Woodstock and the Kingston Police Department are teaming up for an event aimed at teaching youth how to deal with police while protecting their civil rights. The forum, open to all city youth, is set for Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 3:30 p.m. at Old Dutch Church in Uptown Kingston.
Titled “Keep Calm and Know Your Rights,” the presentation was developed by Family of Woodstock adolescent case manager Maria Scarangella. Scarangella said she started the program two years ago to help her clients, at-risk youth involved with or at risk of being involved with the juvenile justice system, safely navigate encounters with police. Since then, she said, the program has broadened to include sessions at Kingston High School and other events geared to a general youth audience. Scarangella said she started the presentations after an encounter between a young Family of Woodstock client and police that “didn’t go well.”
“I wanted to have something to teach them how to behave and react in interactions with police so these types of incidents don’t happen,” said Scarangella.
The program consists of three parts, starting with a discussion of how youth can avoid encounters with police in the first place by steering clear of people, places and activity likely to draw cops’ attention. The second part of the program includes role-playing and other activities to demonstrate what to expect and how to react during an encounter with police officers. Scarangella said she emphasizes the importance of remaining calm and polite to avoid needless escalation of a routine encounter.
“It can be stressful,” said Scarangella. “But if you can be calm and polite, you’re going to be better off than someone who lets their emotions get the better of them.”
The final part of the presentation gives participants information on their civil rights and what police may or may not lawfully do in certain situations. Scarangella said the legal advice was culled from an American Civil Liberties Union fact sheet and vetted by Ulster County Public Defender Andrew Kossover. The information covers material like when police may conduct a pat-down search for weapons, search a vehicle and other common scenarios.
“There are a lot of nuances,” said Scarangella. “You can refuse a search at any time, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be searched.”
Scarangella’s presentation will also include information on how to file a formal complaint if someone feels their rights have been violated or they’ve been mistreated by a police officer.
Kingston Police Department Detective Adam Hotaling will join Scarangella for the presentation. Scarangella said that Hotaling would be able to answer participants’ questions and provide his own input. Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti, who has made improving police-community relations a goal, said supporting the Family of Woodstock program was one way to foster more engagement and more positive interactions between cops and citizens.
“If kids know what’s expected of them and what to expect from us, it helps diffuse some of the anxiety they’re feeling if they should be stopped by police,” said Tinti.