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Residents Weigh In On Poughkeepsie Police Community Relations

WAMC, Allison Dunne
Poughkeepsie Police Chief Thomas Pape talks about police and community relations survey in September 2018

Last year, the city of Poughkeepsie Police Department sent out a survey on police-community relations. Now, the results are in.

Some 3,800 surveys were sent to randomly selected households. The surveys, in English and Spanish, yielded an about 10 percent response rate. Police Chief Tom Pape says the results are instructive and change is afoot.

“We were pleasantly surprised that the majority of the folks feel their neighborhood is safe. The majority of the responses state that they are satisfied with our police service,” Pape says. “However, we can always do more.”

When asked, “In your neighborhood, how much of a problem is people selling or using drugs,” 11 percent of participants felt this was either not a problem or a slight problem, as compared to 65 percent that felt it was a problem or big problem. Pape says this response caught his attention.

“One of the things I did notice in the results is a lot of folks are concerned about the amount of drugs in the community. That’s a concern for us as a police department. And it’s hopefully something we can address,” says Pape. “It’s not just a city of Poughkeepsie problem; it’s a county-wide problem, especially with the opioid epidemic that is upon us. So we’re going to look at some best practices and some other things we can be doing and doing better, and take it from there.”

Chief Pape says the questions were fairly general, and targeted at eliciting how residents feel about their neighborhoods. The Marist College Center for Social Justice Research aided with the survey and tabulated the results. When the surveys went out in September, Pape said he was hoping to increase the numbers in his department to afford the personnel for community policing.

“We are one shy of full staff. We have 91 officers sworn. Our full staff would be 92,” says Pape. “Of that 91, I have five recruits in the academy. They will be graduating August 9.”

When asked “How much would you agree that the police are part of my community,” 47 percent replied that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. Pape says that with the additional hires since late last year, community policing is a reality.

“That allowed us to start a small but effective community policing unit. I have two officers full-time now out in the Main Street corridor. It also allowed by to create a school resource officer position where Office Karen Zirbel was assigned to the middle and high school earlier this year and was able to continue throughout the school year and will be back there again in September,” Pape says. “And it also allowed me to add an additional officer to the Neighborhood Recovery Unit.”

On questions concerning procedural justice, the percentages dropped a bit in agreeing with the question. When asked “How strongly do you agree that the police in the city of Poughkeepsie do not suspect me of being a criminal because of my race/ethnicity,” 56 percent of participants replied that they agreed or strongly agreed. And when asked “How strongly do you agree that the police in the city of Poughkeepsie do not act based on personal prejudices or biases,” 44 percent replied that they agreed or strongly agreed. When asked more generally, as in, “How strongly do you agree that you support how the police act in my community,” 70 percent said that they agreed or strongly agreed.

Pape notes the department is working on other strategies, including equipping the officers with body cameras and completing implicit bias training. Meantime, along with the survey sent to residents came an internal survey.

“We did change a few ways that we do business internally,” Pape says. “I think that has changed what you see out on the street with the officers.”

He says the department was about to implement a new policy manual updated to conform with federal and state laws and best practices.

“I think officers’ attitudes have changed, certainly in here,” says Pape. “We have a much more open dialogue between the command staff and the officers, and I think that carries out into the community.”

The results of the survey come on the heels of a report from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services showing a decrease in crime in Poughkeepsie. Specifically, violent crimes dropped from 417 in 2009 to 216 in 2018, cut almost in half. And robberies, burglaries and property crimes also have fallen by 50 percent or more during the same timeframe.

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