The City of Saratoga Springs kicked off a series of community meetings last night on reimagining police, under a directive from Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“Good evening and welcome, all of you, to the Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force meeting,” said DeLeonardis.
Saratoga Springs City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis introduced a panel of 13 members to a socially-distanced audience inside the Canfield Casino in Congress Park.
The first meeting of the Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force, which members said was moved up from an earlier discussed start date in September, was organizational in nature.
The body has a lot of work ahead between now and April, when a report on how the city will “reimagine” police is due to the state. All localities must submit a plan at the risk of losing state funding.
Each of the board members, appointed by the city council, took turns introducing themselves. The discussion was focused mainly on where to start.
At the request of DeLeonardis, who chairs the committee, City Police Chief Shane Crooks brought along several police policies that could serve as a jumping-off point for review.
“The use of force policy, our handcuffing and restraint policy, our conductive energy device policy, our officer-involved shooting policy and deaths…”
Crooks said that the police department is working in the meantime to upload to the city website more than 140 police policies. As of Wednesday night’s meeting, about 80 were already made public.
Crooks, like many on the panel, warned that time is short.
“There’s a lot to cover in a very short period of time, to actually do it, if you’re going to go through everything,” said Crooks.
On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo’s office released a guide on how municipalities can hold conversations on police-community relations and systemic bias. The local reviews follow unrest across the state following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May. Protestors have demonstrated against police brutality in communities across New York, like Saratoga Springs.
Some members of the panel suggested the board organize a community forum to gather input on policing. Others wanted more time to review specific topics before the next meeting.
A handful of audience members spoke during a public comment period at the end of the meeting, including Lex Figuereo, a Saratoga Springs resident and organizer with the group All of Us, which has held several equal justice protests in recent months.
“They just have to get it very much organized and I also, once again, would have liked it a lot if the public had actual say who would be on this board in the beginning,” said Figuereo.
Joy King, who has been involved in several city government boards in the past, said she was glad the ethnically diverse task force does not include the “usual suspects.”
“I’m very happy with the selection. The only thing is, I wish there were certain younger kids because this movement…the kids are doing this movement. They’re definitely 30 and under. I would say they are 25 and under,” said King.
That request for younger people on the board was repeated several times by audience members. Again, Figuereo.
“I think it’s very important to get the perspective of all ages, all age groups. That’s the way you get a part, a whole part of your community. The youth are in high school still, college still, they’re dealing with things that some of the older people that aren’t dealing with anymore,” said Figuereo.
DeLeonardis said it’s up to the board to gather as much input as possible in a short period of time.
“We have a lot to do overall, but at least between now and the next meeting we're going to start by reviewing an itial five polices related to use-of-force specifically. And I will have at the next meeting available with regard to data that was requested regarding statistics and relating to crime, so I'll have that available at the next meeting, as well. So that gives us a good starting point” said DeLeonardis.
The next meeting of the Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force is set for September 2nd, at 5:30 p.m at Canfield Casino. Meetings will also be archived on the city website.