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City of Saratoga Springs renews CRB discussion

 The Saratoga Springs city council met on Tuesday, February 1st, 2022.
City of Saratoga Springs/Image capture by WAMC
The Saratoga Springs city council met on Tuesday, February 1st, 2022.

Saratoga Springs has started a new process of taking public input on the formation of a Civilian Review Board to provide oversight of the city police department.

The formation of a civilian review board was a key recommendation from the Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force in 2021.

The current city council, which has four new members sworn in in January, started fresh on taking input on a CRB after a series of drafts were introduced by former Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton. Dalton’s proposals failed to get support from the previous council.

New Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino is using the Task Force’s language as a starting point for the formation of a CRB. The Democrat spoke at the beginning of Tuesday’s public hearing.

“The hope that I have is after hearing some public comment before, against, some proposed tweaks, perhaps, to the Appendix G proposal of the Task Force – which obviously was the result of an awful lot of work and a lot of input from a lot of different people – after we hear all of that, my intention would be to draft a proposed ordinance that would ultimately be subject to additional public scrutiny before being considered for passage by the city council,” said Montagnino.

A handful of city residents and regional activists offered their thoughts on language specific to the Task Force recommendation and the general concept of a CRB. City resident Ed Lindner, an attorney, offered his suggestions during the public hearing.

“I’m speaking on my own behalf tonight, but my opinions on this subject are informed by my experience as a deputy with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct – that’s the agency that investigates citizen complaints against judges – and based on that experience, I think you need to use the CRB proposal in the Task Force report as a starting point. You need to build on that and make some improvements so that you can have the most effective CRB possible,” said Lindner.

Saratoga Black Lives Matter organizer Chandler Hickenbottom also spoke.

“This is something that we need and this is something that is extremely important. Not only that, we are asking that you continue to uphold everything that you have said throughout your entire campaign trail, because we will be watching your every move…” said Hickenbottom.

Following the public hearing, during a public comment period, a man wearing a motorcycle jacket approached the mic, and yelled “shut up” at the small group of BLM activists seated in the audience.

Introducing himself as “Bubbles,” a member of the Down Range MC biker club, he admonished the activists.

“You’re not voters, you’re not taxpayers, you’re nothing…let me finish! I’d like to know which ones of them spend money here.”

Mayor Ron Kim asked the man to wear a mask indoors.

In the course of the discussion, Saratoga Springs County Supervisor Tara Gaston made a request that received agreement from some seated members of the council.

“I would ask the Commissioner to please have a uniformed officer come up and remove the gentlemen if they are not going to follow public health guidance and law,” said Gaston.

Hickenbottom then responded, referencing the bikers who have occasionally appeared in city council chambers over the last several months.

“Every day I wake up I have to worry. I have to worry even more because I come in here… I didn’t see anything to these people! I didn’t say a damn thing. And these people have a problem with me?”

In September, several demonstrators including known BLM organizers were arrested on warrant charges nearly two months after a July 14th protest, which the New York State Attorney General’s office is now investigating.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Commissioner Motangnino gave an announcement on a new police policy regarding arrests on warrants.

“It reads as follows: ‘The appearance of a defendant charged solely with one or more petty offenses should be sought by way of a summons in lieu of an arrest warrant, unless special circumstances exist. Special circumstances shall include but not be limited to situations in which the service of a summons upon the defendant may reasonably result in a risk of harm to a victim, witness, or other person. An officer seeking an arrest warrant where the defendant is charged solely with one or more petty offenses shall set forth in a written report the specific facts giving rise to special circumstances. Nothing in this policy provision shall be read as limiting the authority of any police officer to effectuate warrantless arrest when such a warrantless arrest is allowed by law.’”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.