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Saranac Lake Committee Holds Public Hearing On Police Reform Plan

Saranac Lake welcome sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC

Last June, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an Executive Order that required all local governments and stakeholders to review their police departments and develop a plan to improve operations.  The plan must be adopted by April 1st and filed with the state. The village of Saranac Lake is holding public hearings on its proposed Police Reform Plan as it prepares to finalize the document.
Among the highest priorities listed in the Saranac Lake Police Reform Committee’s draft police reform plan are addressing use of force policies, de-escalation training and practices, implicit bias awareness training and community-based outreach and conflict resolution.
During a recent public hearing on the plan Police Chief James Joyce explained the policies are based on a template from public safety consultant Lexipol that has been edited for applicability to the village.  “We are going to end up with policies that I think are extremely reasonable and are in some cases very progressive. Policies that we did not have that we are going to now have: a policy on the homeless; there is a First Amendment assembly, anti-retaliation biased-based policing. The list goes on.”

Chief Joyce was asked how evidence based strategies are addressed in the report.  “Hi this is Colleen. I’m just wondering which evidence-based strategies are being used in this draft report?”
Chief Joyce: “It’s a very broad category and we gave a higher priority to de-escalation training and practices, procedural justice, implicit bias awareness training, community-based outreach and conflict resolution and then law enforcement assisted diversion programs. Those are the evidence-based strategies. And I guess what evidence based refers to is that the success or failure of them is um those are measurable criteria.”

Saranac Lake resident Colleen Farmer was also concerned about the bias training outlined in the plan.  “Like the Adirondack Diversity. How is it that they are qualified to do this? I mean they appear to be more environmentally involved?”

Police Reform Committee member Chris Morris, a core team member at the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, responded.  “The Adirondack Diversity Initiative finding comes from the state of New York. We have just signed a contract with RENZ Consulting which is a nationally renowned law enforcement training and consulting firm led by former law enforcement and current law enforcement. Chief Joyce did have a chance to meet with that team and that’s what we’re offering to bring to the table via the Adirondack Diversity Initiative.”

Committee Chair Melinda Little added:  “Just to be clear the groups or potential sources of training that are listed in the report all of them have different strengths and would be used for different sorts of trainings.”

There was extended discussion over a proposed Interface Committee following a query by resident Zohar Gitlis.  “What I kind of heard was that this Interface Committee  would just be sort of like promoting understanding between the community and the police department and it seems like that’s like a P-R position. I’m wondering if like implementing and working towards change would be within the purview of this body.”

Morris noted that anyone can make recommendations to the village board but some people are uncomfortable with the process.  “I think this Committee has the potential to play a really important role. We have advisory boards for arts and culture and downtown businesses and things like that so I think having something for police and public safety is important. I do think that the potential does exist to make recommendations or suggestions or even just comment or ask questions on policy going forward. I view that as the role of this committee.”

A second virtual hearing on Saranac Lake’s Police Reform Plan is scheduled for Thursday, March 4th at 7 p.m.