Facing an April deadline under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s directive, the Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force met Wednesday evening to discuss some proposed revisions to policing policy.
The task force meeting featured a presentation from a subcommittee tasked with examining deviations from police policies and communication with other agencies.
The police response to the July 30th “Back the Blue” rally and ensuing counter-protest, where young Black Lives Matter supporters were pelted with pepper-bullets on Broadway, has come up frequently in police reform discussions in Saratoga Springs.
The Saratoga Springs Police Department had sought assistance from State Police and the county sheriff that day – and at the time, it wasn’t immediately clear who had ordered that less-lethal weapons be used against demonstrators.
Task force member Terry Diggory spoke during the meeting held over Zoom.
“One of the questions that came up with regard to the July 30th incident was, ‘OK, there might have been a deviation of policy. Who was responsible?’” said Diggory.
Diggory read the proposed policy revision intended to clarify language in the police department’s interagency cooperation provision “that an Incident Commander shall be responsible for ensuring that the policies of his/her agency govern the conduct of the incident.”
In this exchange, task force member Jason Golub follows up with a question.
“That is, there is to be an incident commander when there are cooperating agencies and this states that it’s the commander’s policies of his or her agency govern the conditions,” said Diggory.
“Right. I get that. But my question isn’t that, my question is what happens when that doesn’t happen?” asked Golub.
While Diggory explained that he hoped the revision would prevent such incidents from happening, task force member Winston Grady-Willis made a suggestion of what could be added if things go awry.
“But I think it’s really important also, for the community itself – perhaps through a review board – to be able to in a formal way raise concerns if something like this happens again,” said Grady-Willis.
Also discussed was a proposed revision to the police department’s policy on no-knock warrants.
The revision reads in part, “members of the Saratoga Springs Police Department shall not request no-knock warrants. Requests from other agencies for assistance in executing no-knock warrants should be directed to a supervisor.”
This proposed change, intended to prevent incidents like the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, was met with some resistance from task force member Kimberly Galvin.
“I’m just saying you’re putting the police-officers at risk. And you’re not thinking about the totality of the situation where they may need a no-knock warrant,” said Galvin.
Saratoga Springs Police Chief Shane Crooks also defended no-knock warrants.
“When you look around the country when these warrants are executed and they don’t go well, it’s usually related to bad pre-planning on that end. That would be my recommendation on it. I wouldn’t do an all-out shall not request. I think that that could end up putting officers in a spot where they’re in danger,” said Crooks.
Another policy revision discussed was related to police cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Under current policy, the city police department “will not inquire about immigration status and will cooperate with federal immigration agents only under limited circumstances clearly defined in policy.”
Diggory explained that if a warrant for an immigration-related arrest is provided, a revision would require the Saratoga Springs Police Department to make a distinction between a judicial and “administrative” warrant.
“If ICE has a judicial warrant for the person in question, that judicial warrant must be honored. However, ICE also uses what they call warrants, but they’re administrative warrants. They are not enforceable in court. And this policy revision says that administrative warrants are not to be honored.”
Intended to improve what Diggory described as distrust between the immigrant community and police, new language would suggest the police refer a call related to immigration to a “qualified community service provider for confidential consultation with the individual.”
Also discussed Wednesday night was police training and the readying of a community survey to be distributed on paper and online to gather community feedback on policing.