Town weighs in on police reform

By CLOEY CALLAHAN
Posted 2/24/21

The Town of Newburgh kicked off its Executive Order 203 meetings on Tuesday, February 16, which was led by Town of Newburgh Deputy Supervisor Scott Manley, among others. Last spring, Governor Andrew …

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Town weighs in on police reform

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The Town of Newburgh kicked off its Executive Order 203 meetings on Tuesday, February 16, which was led by Town of Newburgh Deputy Supervisor Scott Manley, among others. Last spring, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered a police reform and reinvention collaborative with this executive order. By April 1, each municipality must have a police reform plan put in place and approved by the local government.

In an effort to hear from community members, the Town of Newburgh plans to hold meetings every Tuesday at 7 p.m. and is also accepting emails from residents. The Town of Newburgh formed an advisory panel that consists of Manley, Town of Newburgh Police Chief Donald Bruce Campbell, Orange County Senior Assistant District Attorney Robert Conflitti, Meadow Hill Reformed Church Pastor Irving Rivera, Co-Owner of Barking Goose Bookstore Bar & Cafe Jennifer Flynn, Executive Director of the African Cultural Center of the Greater Hudson Valley Terrence Verette and Executive Director of Newburgh Ministries Colin Jarvis.

The panel will review the police department’s practices and policies and “develop a plan regarding the role of the police department and how it can best serve our community moving forward.”

Aside from meeting weekly with the panel and allowing for community input, there will be a public hearing scheduled with the Town of Newburgh as well.

The first meeting kicked off with around 30 individuals in attendance, which included not only the advisory panel but Orange County Legislator Kevindaryán Luján, Orange County Legislature candidates Genesis Ramos and Roger Ramjug, Orange County Director of Mental Health Services Tammy Rhein, and a number of community advocates.

“I don’t want to be up here pontificating or making excuses for law enforcement,” said Campbell. “I’d like this to be about the community and I should be mostly listening here. I want to hear how the community feels about the police department, if we’re doing something wrong or not doing something well enough.”

The hour-long meeting was dedicated to let community members speak about what they would like to see with the police reform initiative. Speakers touched on having increased accountability and transparency from the police department, more diversity in the department and hiring process, collaboration with mental health professionals, external reviews of complaints, anti-racist and implicit bias training and new protocols and policies that would ensure each new iniative is taken seriously.

“De-escalation to me is critical,” said Ramos. “We see what happens when law enforcement does not have that tool in their tool kit to be able to de-escalate situations – that is what has led to detrimental effects, especially in communities of color. I think knowing the constituency and demographics in our neighborhoods, it’s important to have this.”

Ramos said how she believes “training is part of the equation but it is not the solution,” and asked what measures would be put in place to hold officers accountable.

Terri Blancato-Horton asked questions on where the Town of Newburgh police are hired from, how many are women, and if counseling is available for the police force during traumatic situations.

“I have concerns about police officers handling certain situations where people can be tense,” said John Bauza. “They can have mental health professionals on staff, or on call, that would be able to help certain crisis situations.”

Rhein said she looks forward to future collaboration between the Orange County Department of Health and the Town of Newburgh Police Department. She has served as a liaison for Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, training and has co-facilitated training with other law enforcement.

The April 1 deadline calls for a plan to be put in place. The initiatives might take longer before they are seen. However, the Town of Newburgh Police Department has already taken steps to make progress within the department. For example, they ordered body worn cameras, which should arrive as early as this week, according to Campbell. Additionally, they have begun their first phase, out of four, for the department’s procedural justice training.

“This isn’t my meeting, this is your meeting – this police department isn’t my police department, it’s your police department,” said Campbell. “We wanted to do this in an open forum so there is transparency and everyone has a voice. Everyone’s voice is important. Hopefully together we will be able to work out this plan that the town board can vote on. Once the plan is in place, there has to be follow-up and oversight to make sure what puts in the plan is executed.”

The next meeting will be held virtually on Tuesday, March 2 at 7 p.m via Zoom. Written comments can be submitted to policereform@townofnewburghpd.org.

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