Kingston’s Re-envision Public Safety Task Force met last week for a two-hour series of public presentations from task force members. The presentations touched on a wide array of issues, transparency, accountability, community policing programs, training, and community engagement. The meeting was meant to give the public an opportunity to provide input to the group, which will present its recommendations to the Kingston Common Council in the coming months.
The task force was organized last summer following an executive order from the governor requiring all local governments to adopt a policing reform plan by April 2021. Task force members were then appointed, “each of which brings unique perspective and expertise to the table,” according to Mayor Steve Noble. The task force’s mission is to “address law enforcement-community relations, use-of-force policies, procedural justice, systemic racial bias, and practices that may contribute to racial disparity in the community, among other issues.”
The task force has been meeting twice a month since September and will continue to do so through March. The first public forum was held on October 28 and the second, which this article reports on, was held Wednesday, December 16.
Task force member Raquel Derrick kicked off the presentations, focusing on how to build a “supportive and rehabilitative criminal justice system.” She discussed “Sequential Intercept Mapping,” which analyzes the various points in which individuals come into contact with the criminal justice system, with the goal of providing alternatives to incarceration. She said the exercise would help identify resources and gaps across the system and facilitate “the identification of local behavioral health services to support diversion from the criminal justice system.”
Derrick proposed that they focus on the beginning of the model, “which are the community services and law enforcement initiatives.” In doing so, she believes it would, “prevent these individuals that are maybe not best served by the criminal justice system from further penetrating to the point where they are going before a judge or being placed on probation.” Community services include things like crisis hotlines, which might help someone from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.
In 2016, Ulster County participated in a Sequential Intercept Model mapping exercise. Derrick is asking that it is now revisited.
Naimah Muhammad centered her focus on creating community ambassadors due to what she identified as the lack of trust between the Kingston Police Department and the community. She explained how a program like this would be beneficial in that it would create the opportunity for residents to “prove a visible, street-smart safety presence in targeted neighborhoods.” Muhammad said such a program would have formal communication channels between the police department and the ambassadors.
Alderman Tony Davis presented his suggestions to combat unconscious bias. He cited the “Doll Test” that was administered in the 1940s and 50s that showed 65 to 70 percent of children between the ages two and seven identified white dolls as being “smarter, friendlier and prettier.” Looping back to the City of Kingston’s situation, Davis reported that “in 2019, out of the 773 arrests made, 42 percent were people of color in comparison to the estimated 14.6 percent of the population that they represent.” He suggested annual implicit bias training and to create “highly prescriptive protocols for engagement between law enforcement and citizens.”
The chief speaks
Police Chief Egidio Tinti’s presentation, which was read by Strong, emphasized that mutual trust and respect between members of the department, city officials, and the public is essential.
“Officers that feel respected on the job are far more likely to respect those whom they serve,” read Tinti’s presentation.
He suggested reinstituting recognition and award ceremonies annuals, inviting police commissioners to accompany command staff on ride-alongs, and continual engagement by attending in-service training with them. He would like to see increased positive compliments being submitted to the police department, reduction in sick time use and more detail in reports completed by officers after handling calls, which would indicate a more interactive encounter.
All for show?
Some expressed skepticism. One resident described the task force as a “public relations stunt” that would do nothing to create lasting change and that the police chief shouldn’t be involved, although the governor’s executive order requires it.
“The title of the task force is re-envisioning public safety and you’re having the chief of police on it,” said Sam Goldberg. “That is a challenge. I have trouble taking it seriously. The mayor has ignored the ongoing protests in Kingston for months and the last meeting was scheduled during one of the protests.”
Task force member Manuel Blas Sánchez called for improving the transparency at the Kingston Police Department. He stated that there is not enough data, information or tools to give an accurate assessment to understand the quality of interactions between the police and citizens. Earlier this year Kingston implemented the Right to Know Act, where each police officer has to provide their name, police identification number on a business card, along with a reason as to why the person is being pulled over or detained. He hopes to see the business cards introduced as soon as possible. Additionally, he suggested a random and blind survey for Kingston residents that will measure the interactions between police officers and the community.
Students, the autistic, and the mentally ill
Task force member Amy Shapiro said minority children are disciplined in the Kingston Central School District “disproportionately.” She suggested that school resource officers, who are uniformed police officers who work in school buildings, are either removed completely or that the language of the agreement between the school district and the police department is revised to emphasize keeping the students safe rather than monitoring them.
Task force member Beetle Bailey specifically looked at how the police interact with those on the autism spectrum. She outlined common autism spectrum characteristics and how they can be misunderstood and “taken for aggression and a threat or shutdowns likely being taken as a refusal to comply.” To help improve interactions between the police department and those who may be on the spectrum, Bailey said there is training available and suggested autistic community members could provide input.
Diving further into police engagement with community members, task force member David McNamara touched on those who have mental-health and addiction-related issues.
“The core problem is that when a mental health episode, drug induced or other psychotic break, drug overdose or other drug-related issue occurs, police are generally the only professionals called and sent to the site of the incident,” said McNamara. “It makes it difficult when law enforcement officers are called to deal with these individuals as this has not been their training.”
McNamara called for better collaboration between mental health and addiction treatment professionals in cases where they would benefit the situation.
Use of force and accountability
Dejohnette, one of the city’s four police commissioners, said the city should “improve the structure and function of the police commission.” Dejohnette suggested having increased transparency and accessible data, expanding the size of the commission to seven members with subcommittees, increasing accountability among the commissioners and joining the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. The Police Commission hires police officers, recommends disciplinary actions and dismissals, approves promotions, raises, in-service training and time off, among other things. It also reviews complaints made about the police department.
Meanwhile, task force member Andrea Callan presented the need for more meaningful accountability for police officers who commit repeated and serious violations.
“This harms public safety because citizens will refrain from calling upon the police in certain circumstances where they think more harm that good will come of it, and citizens may refuse to serve as witnesses or otherwise participate in police investigations,” said Callan.
She suggested the Kingston Police Department adopts a disciplinary philosophy to “begin to rebuild trust between officers and leadership.”
Task force member Jimmy Buff discussed ways to improve police/community interactions. He said the “attitude of law enforcement during encounters can greatly influence the outcome of the interaction.” One of his suggestions included having procedural justice training, which trains police officers on how to treat “people with dignity and respect and giving people a voice during encounters, which underscores equal footing and promotes community trust.”
One community member asked how each of these new suggestions, including increased training, new data collection and more, would be funded. The answer: the City of Kingston has put aside $100,000 in the 2021 budget to implement some of the recommendations from the task force.
Additionally, task force members have begun searching and applying for grants and funding in other areas.
“This town hall tonight is a work in progress,” said Strong. “We should have said that at the very outset, that this is where we are in the work and feedback tonight is informing that work.”
To learn more or read each presentation in depth and to find contact information, visit engagekingston.com/re-envision-public-safety-task-force.
The full video
Task force members
- Mayor Steve Noble
- Chief of Police Egidio Tinti
- Police Commissioner Minya Dejohnette
- Alderman Tony Davis
- Lester Strong (chairman)
- Beetle Bailey
- Jimmy Buff
- Andrea Callan
- Raquel Derrick
- Daniel Gruner
- Donald Mapes, Jr.
- David McNamara
- Naimah Muhammad
- Manuel Blas Sanche
- Amy Shapiro