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Saratoga Springs city council takes input on draft CRB ordinance

A still of police body camera footage depicting one of the alleged shooters on the sidewalk on Broadway following Sunday's early morning shooting in Saratoga Springs
City of Saratoga Springs Police Department video uploaded to YouTube
Image capture by WAMC
An entrance to the Saratoga Springs Police Department (file photo)

The Saratoga Springs City Council is hearing comments on a draft ordinance to establish a Civilian Review Board that would foster communication between the city police department and members of the public.

Tuesday night, the Saratoga Springs city council heard public comments on the latest version of an ordinance to establish a Civilian Review Board.

An ordinance introduced last year under the previous city council failed to gain traction.

Residents shared their thoughts on the updated proposal, including Eric Lawson, a local attorney and mediator.

“I believe it’s a neutral approach to providing a forum for citizens of the community to raise grievances for the police force. It does it, however, in a way which is completely neutral. And I believe if it’s properly funded and it’s implemented with regard to the intentions what are set forth in the provisions, that it will advance the peace and civility of our community to a very considerable degree, so I encourage its adoption,” said Lawson.

Former Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen suggested some changes. The latest ordinance has a residency requirement for CRB members of at least six months.

“I think six months is a little short. I think you should look for people who have been here a little longer and understand the city. Six months is not a very long time,” said Mathiesen.

The Democrat also suggested a 90-day window for bringing forward a complaint is too long.

“I would suggest something shorter. I think if people are going to have a complaint made against the department, that you want to make sure that complaint is made when memories are fresh and evidence is more easily attained,” said Mathiesen.

The establishment of a CRB to investigate complaints against the police department has long been a goal of reform advocates in Saratoga Springs.

Saratoga BLM activist Alexus Brown took issue with language in the latest draft related to who can serve on the CRB.

“Where it says ‘members of the CRB shall be individuals of good character who must at all times remain unbiased and impartial regarding of law enforcement in our community’: the activist community in our city, we’re a bit concerned that that language may be used by future members of the council to bar activists and things like that from joining the committee,” said Brown.

Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino explained that the draft ordinance closely resembles recommendations handed up by the city’s Police Reform Task Force in 2021, with some adjustments. The Democrat elected in November gave an example.

“The Task Force recommendation considered or proposed mandatory mediation and we discussed at the public hearings that there are certain circumstances in which a complainant would be deterred from bringing a complaint if mandatory mediation were an essential element in the process. The proposed ordinance, mediation is optional at the option of the complainant,” said Montagnino.

The previous council had expressed concerns that the establishment of a CRB with subpoena power would conflict with the city charter and contract agreements with union employees.

Montagnino dismissed those worries, heard here in an exchange with Mayor Ron Kim, a fellow Democrat.

“The language specifically requires that the collective bargaining agreements’ terms be respected,” said Montagnino.

“Because just for the record, prior administrations said those two things would keep us from doing a CRB, but neither of them block us from doing it – neither the charter nor the collective bargaining agreements. Correct?” asked Kim.

“That is correct, Mr. Mayor,” said Montagnino.

The city council is keeping the public hearing on the draft CRB ordinance open.

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