The Saugerties Police Reform and Reinvention Committee has completed its study of the Saugerties Police Department and issued a 22-page report, with an additional 17 pages of summary, information about the committee, police records and the tabulation of answers to a questionnaire filled out by more than 300 responders.
As she did at the first two public presentations of the committee’s work, committee member Gilda Riccardi reminded the virtual audience that the committee was mandated by New York Stat Governor Andrew Cuomo to examine police procedures and performance and suggest ways to improve them, especially in relation to persons of color.
In its third public session, which was designed to give the report a final tweak before presenting it to the board, there were fewer comments that in the previous sessions, but nonetheless 44 people were signed in to the presentation.
The committee’s recommendations ranged from actions that could be taken almost immediately, such as having officers carry business cards with their names, and contact info various police resources, to long-term proposals, such as refocusing police academy training from a military- to academy-based approach. Police officers should know the law, and “be able to apply the law in situations as they unfold.” On the local level, officers should receive training that explores their implicit and subconscious biases.
Police officers should also learn to recognize and respond to various mental illnesses, such as autism, which affect the way they interact with people. For instance, during the presentation, while committee members advised people to obey police officers’ instructions and express disagreement with those instructions later, Committee Chair Christine Dinsmore pointed out that people suffering from some mental or personality disorders might be unable to follow this advice. Officers should be aware of this.
A sense of the report’s scope can be seen in the number of topics listed in the summary of the recommendations: data, alternative policing, recruitment and training, accountability and transparency and funding. These topics are further broken down; many contain numerous subtopics. For instance, the report lists six recommendations under “training,” with four more under “racial bias” that include training or the application of the training. The task force recommendations include informing the public of the “procedures and policies that prevent police officers involved in radical groups from serving as police officers in Saugerties.”
Under “reimagining funding recommendations” the committee includes such measures as establishing a task force to find funding, such as federal, state and foundation grants, partnering with other police departments, collaborating with universities to develop internship and training programs (including anti-racism programs), negotiating a buy-in to Family of Woodstock programs, working with the high school to help students learn civil service test-taking skills and “change the mind set from ‘not possible’ to ‘let’s find a way.’”
Some of the participants of the first two of the three presentations were dismayed by the acknowledgment that police reports don’t include the race and ethnicity of people arrested or stopped for traffic violations. The report recommends “more data, including race and ethnicity and disposition to be collected with each stop and arrest to ensure that we capture the vital information to identify bias policing; all arrest data and analysis of the data should be posted for public view on the SPD web site.”
The committee also recommends that “data should be analyzed by an independent body with statistical and data analysis expertise, generating an annual report identifying disparate police practices.”
The committee found that “nationwide 12 percent of police officers had a mental health diagnosis and 26 percent reported current mental health issues, but few sought out mental health services. Nationally, police have a 69 percent greater risk of suicide than the general population.”
The report states that 32 percent of women and 29 percent of men experience “intimate partner” violence, the report states. Nationally, “at least 40 percent of law enforcement families experience domestic violence, as opposed to 10 percent of non-law enforcement families.” The domestic violence recommendations include robust data collection for domestic violence calls, including number of felonies, misdemeanors and violations, and demographics – sex, age and race of both the perpetrator and the victim, and the relationship, if any, to the responding police officer. It also recommends training on de-escalation, interviewing children, and identification of grants to fund prevention and intervention programs of officer-involved domestic violence.
Finally, the report considered the position of the school resource officer, or SRO, a uniformed police officer stationed in the schools.
“Most recently the current SRO was recognized by the Police Chiefs Association of Ulster County and called a ‘transformational leader’ by the high school principal,” the committee’s report states, but it adds that “several community members voiced their concern about the role of SROs in general in fueling the school to prison pipeline and having students monitored by an armed police officer.”
The recommendations in the report include: educate the public on the specific roles of the SRO, provide monthly data on SRO-student encounters/arrests on the websites of the Saugerties Police Department and the Saugerties School District (if permissible), and provide training on such issues as autism and implicit bias.