Kingston’s Re-envision Public Safety Task Force delivered its recommendations for police reform to city government last week in a 54-page report.
The final report covers four key areas: Use of Force & Accountability, Police Recruitment, Training & Morale, Community Policing, and Alternatives to Police Intervention.
Highlights of the recommendations include transparency in data reporting that would be readily accessible to the public on the police commission website, adopting a disciplinary philosophy for the Kingston Police Department to rebuild trust between officers and leadership, involving a team of mental health and addiction treatment professionals to be called in by 911 in mental health or addiction related incidents, implementing training to assist in situations involving neurodivergent community members (including those with autism or ADHD), annual implicit bias training, and creating a community ambassador program to provide a “visible, street-smart safety presence in targeted neighborhoods.”
“Here in Kingston there has been a lot of interest in making sure we have the most responsive and most forward-thinking police department, and in order to get there I believe the Re-envision Public Safety Task Force has laid out really important steps for us to consider over the next couple of years,” said Kingston Mayor Steve Noble. “We want to be able to police the community the way the community wants to be policed.”
The city commissioned the nonprofit Peaceful Guardians Project to facilitate the task force. Its director, Lester Strong, moderated the public meetings and wrote the executive summary of the report.
Since September the task force has been analyzing the city’s law enforcement community relations, use-of-force policies, procedural justice, systemic racial bias and other practices that may be contributing to racial disparity in the community.
“This was not an easy thing to do,” said Strong. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t self-censor and say ‘oh that will be too hard to do,’ or anticipate what would be and would not be acceptable. We had to put that aside and really say let’s just look with a clean slate at what we’ve seen that works and what could fit well in the Kingston community.
“Some recommendations are going to take longer than others to develop,” said Strong. “Each recommendation is extraordinarily important but there are some that you can implement more quickly than others and you could see an impact more quickly because building the infrastructure to it might not be as complex as others.”
Strong expects some recommendations, such as improving communications between the police department and community, “could be set up fairly quickly and yield tremendous benefit.”
Noble believes that the recommendations to create better responses to mental health and drug related incidents are some of the most notable. According to Noble, a high number of calls are from these incidents.
“Being able to spend more of our energy and funding supporting those in the mental health field that could better respond to those calls so the police department isn’t necessarily the first responder for those types of incidents would go a long way in helping members of our community that struggle with that every day,” said Noble.
One recommendation is to gather more data about local police interactions.
“We aren’t keeping the data that allows us to really make informed decisions that could really be useful,” said Strong. “Collecting that data is going to be very significant.”
Noble also highlighted the importance of Kingston-specific police data collection.
“Members of our community are really interested in finding out more local data about our police department, how it works and who we interact with,” said Noble. “I think that was a really good thing to see. I think there are steps we can take to improve that transparency and many of these relate to the need for better local data to make more informed decisions.”
The Common Council’s Special Policing Committee will begin to review the recommendations at its February 3 meeting. There will then be a public hearing on February 11 at 6:30 p.m. The Common Council must pass a local law with recommendations by New York State’s April 1, 2021 deadline.
“My sense is that this is going to be well received by the Common Council,” said Noble. “I think, or hope, they adopt this plan so we can have it ratified and adopted by the April 1 deadline and then work together to begin implementation.”
Strong, on the other hand, expects “significant investigation and probing into the rationale for virtually every one of the proposals.” However, he is equally confident with the research, analysis and recommendations that they are putting forth.
“The mandate was how to build trust and confidence,” said Strong. “I think our recommendations, if taken together, would offer tremendous trust and confidence with our community and police department.”
The City of Kingston budget has allocated $100,000 to implement the recommendations put forth.
“We will have to work together to see how best to utilize that funding going forward,” said Noble. “I’m interested in working with the community in doing that. [Data collection and finding ways to better respond to mental health and addiction related incidents] seem like the most expensive but also some of the most achievable in the short-term. This plan didn’t include cost estimates for any of the aspects, so we will have to spend some time working together how to best utilize the funds and to plan for future funding requests – whether it be from grant funding or the municipal budget going forward.”
To read the report of recommendations, visit kingston-ny.gov/news/?FeedID=1329.