New Paltz police budget doesn’t say how $2.5 million is intended to be spent during 2020

Members of the public have been debating the New Paltz police budget for several months, and supervisor Neil Bettez confirmed last week that town officials were working on supplying some specifics. The challenge had been how to redact identifying information appropriately, he said, and that was being done with the advice of the town’s attorney.

Provided by the town clerk on July 16, the document breaks out three basic categories: personal services (generally the cost of salaries and benefits) at $2,137,369; equipment at $6500; and contractual expenses of $403,279. No additional information is presented.

Chief Robert Lucchesi has expressed a desire in recent weeks to be more transparent about police activities, to help members of the public understand what officers do and do not do in the course of their duties. The 2021 police budget is unlikely to reflect these continuing discussions. 

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During the New Paltz Police Commission meeting streamed live July 16, New Paltz’s town board again heard criticism of the process it’s considering for complying with the governor’s Executive Order 203. Governor Andrew Cuomo has described that order as an attempt to address concerns about systemic racism in policing by articulating strategies for reform. Local reports are due April 1 of next year, with the threat of the withdrawal of state aid as the price of non-compliance.

Tanya Marquette criticized the group’s mission statement, which is “to develop a collaborative problem-solving platform for policy and legislative changes to New Paltz town board policies and procedures, related to evidence-based-policing strategies. The goal is to create a better future for the New Paltz police department and those it serves.” Marquette finds the absence of direct reference to racism problematic.

New Paltz has been assembling a large and diverse group of citizens pursuant to the governor’s order. The town budget is prepared about a half-year earlier.

Deputy supervisor Daniel Torres, primary author of the mission statement, said its preparation “may have been a mistake,” but that “it’s the executive order.” The order does, in fact, refer to such concepts as collaboration and evidence-based policing strategies, but it also includes recommendations for plans “which seek to reduce any racial disparities in policing.”

Town resident Edgar Rodriguez has offered up a lengthy list of local grassroots organizations working in communities of color. Torres restated two principles underlying the creation of this committee: that a majority of members be people of color, and that representatives of the stakeholder groups be selected by members of those groups themselves.

Lucchsesi maintains that two new policies under which New Paltz police officers operate simply formalize what they’ve already been doing. One covers being recorded while doing their jobs, and the other lays out guidance for controlling crowds. The former makes it clear that officers should expect that they may be recorded while on duty. As for crowd control, the chief said that the goal is to keep members of the public safe while supporting their constitutional rights to free speech and public assembly.

Members of the police department received eight letters of commendation during the month of June. They covered thanking officers for their help with socially-distant graduations and birthday parties, finding lost and injured hikers, helping a stranded motorist, persuading someone to consent to medical treatment, and defusing a tense situation during a protest. Officer Milton stood out, having been named in four of the eight letters.

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